Vasculitis

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessels. Inflammation damages the lining of affected blood vessels, causing narrowing, blood clot formation and/or blockage. Reduced blood supply can cause pain, tissue damage, and in severe cases, malfunction of certain organs. There are many different types of vasculitis, depending on the size of the blood vessels and which organs are affected.

What causes vasculitis?

Vasculitis occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks blood vessels. The specific cause is unknown; however infections, medicine, and other previous diseases are factors. It can affect people of all ages, races, and both sexes. Some types of vasculitis occur more often in people with diseases such as chronic hepatitis B and C, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

What are the symptoms of vasculitis?

Symptoms of vasculitis vary depending on the type and severity of the disease and which organs are affected. Signs and symptoms may be gradual and develop over months. However, they also may develop quickly, over days or weeks. Some symptoms of vasculitis include:

  • Fever

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Swelling

  • General ill-feeling

  • Skin changes

  • Achy joints

  • Mouth sores

  • Red, itchy, burning eyes

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of vasculitis.

How do you diagnose vasculitis?

Vasculitis diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms, medical history, a physical exam, and test results. Depending on the type of vasculitis, and the organs affected, your doctor may refer you to various specialists, such as a cardiologist and/or rheumatologist. Many tests are used to diagnose vasculitis. Some of these tests include:

  • Hemoglobin and hematocrit blood tests

  • Biopsy

  • C-Reactive protein

  • Blood pressure

  • Urinalysis

  • Electrocardiogram

How do you treat vasculitis?

Treatment for vasculitis is dependent on the type of vasculitis, organs affected, and the severity of symptoms. The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation in the affected blood vessels. Some treatment methods include:

  • Prescription drugs such as corticosteroids and cytotoxic medicines

  • Over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen

  • Surgery to remove aneurysms

Next Steps for Patients

While some patients are candidates for self-referral to our cardiovascular specialists, we recommend that you ask your primary care physician for help with the process. Find a Provider

Provider Referrals

If you are a provider who would like to refer a patient for MaineHealth vascular services, please review our referral guidelines and call 207-662-8900. Referral Guidelines

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