What is vasculitis? — Vasculitis is inflammation in the blood vessels. It can damage the blood vessels and keep them from carrying blood to body parts that need it. Vasculitis can affect many different parts of the body.
There are many different types of vasculitis (table 1). Some are mild, and others are serious or even life-threatening.
Vasculitis sometimes happens with another disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. But vasculitis can also happen in people without other health problems.
What are the symptoms of vasculitis? — The main symptoms can include:
Muscle and joint pain
Lack of appetite – Some people with vasculitis lose weight without trying to.
Brown or dark-colored urine
Numbness, weakness, or pain in the hands, feet, or other parts of the body
Will I need tests? — Yes. Vasculitis symptoms can be a lot like symptoms of other diseases, so tests are important to help doctors learn the cause of symptoms. Tests can include:
Blood and urine tests
Imaging tests – These can include X-rays or an MRI. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.
Nerve conduction studies – These tests check whether nerves are carrying electrical signals the way they are supposed to. They can show nerve damage caused by vasculitis.
Lung function tests – These tests measure how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow. They can show lung damage caused by vasculitis.
A test called a "biopsy" – In this test, a doctor takes a small sample of tissue from an affected body part. Another doctor looks at the sample under a microscope. This test can show signs of vasculitis and help doctors learn what type of vasculitis someone has.
A test called an "arteriogram" – In this test, a doctor puts a thin tube into a blood vessel in a leg or arm. He or she moves the tube into blood vessels in the affected body part, such as the heart. Then the doctor injects a dye that shows up on an X-ray. The dye helps show changes in blood vessels caused by vasculitis.
How is vasculitis treated? — It depends on the type of vasculitis you have. Treatments include:
Steroid medicines, such as prednisone – These medicines can reduce or control inflammation. Because steroid medicines can cause serious side effects, doctors try to give them for as short a time as possible. These are not the same as the steroids some athletes take illegally.
Strong medicines that "turn off" the immune system, such as cyclophosphamide (brand name: Procytox) or rituximab (brand name: Rituxan) – These medicines can be taken along with steroid medicines. Doctors use them to treat the most severe vasculitis.
Other medicines that partly "turn off" the immune system, such as azathioprine (sample brand names: Azasan, Imuran), and methotrexate (sample brand names: Rheumatrex, Trexall) – These are not as strong as medicines like cyclophosphamide. Doctors use them to treat less severe types of vasculitis, or to switch patients off of cyclophosphamide after the worst of their symptoms are controlled.
Vasculitis can sometimes be caused by a reaction to certain medicines. If you get it, stopping the medicine might be the only treatment you need.
What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or nurse. Some medicines for vasculitis are not safe to take while pregnant. You might need to get symptoms under control or switch medicines before you try to get pregnant.
What will my life be like? — People with vasculitis need regular exams and tests to check for problems the vasculitis can cause. It is important to take medicines exactly as prescribed and tell the doctor or nurse about any side effects. The right treatment can help you control the symptoms and stay as healthy as possible.
Even though some types of vasculitis are very serious, doctors and nurses today know a lot about how to handle vasculitis, and many people with vasculitis live a long time. Sometimes, symptoms even go away for long periods of time.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 86015 Version 10.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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