Vasculitis

MaineHealth providers are committed to taking care of patients with vasculitis and ensuring that they receive individualized treatment plans, so they can manage their condition and feel better.

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis is 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 that are based 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 of vasculitis 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 other diseases, such as chronic hepatitis B and C, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

Vasculitis symptoms

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.

Diagnosing vasculitis

Vasculitis is diagnosed based on signs and symptoms, medical history, a physical exam, and test results. Depending on the type of vasculitis you have 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

Treating vasculitis

Treatment for vasculitis is dependent on the type of vasculitis you have, specific 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

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