Vasculitis is a term used to describe rare forms of diseases that have in common inflammation to certain types of vessels. Vessels are grouped into arteries and veins and vasculitis is divided into small, medium and large vessel diseases.

Certain types of vasculitis problems affect children more then adults. Vasculitis can be a manifestation of other immune system disease, i.e., rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, but it also can be a distinct condition .
Inflammation to the vessel can create problems with the flow of the blood through it and lead to loss of flow and ischemia to the tissues . It can also cause weakening to the vessel wall and dilatation ,rupture and/or bleeding.

The organ supplied by the vessel will then lose sufficient blood supply which in turn can cause loss of organ function.

Symptoms of vasculitis vary and can present as:

  • Red spots on the skin, nodules or ulcers
  • Breathing problems or cough
  • Headache, blindness
  • Numbness of hands or arms

Common Types of Vasculitis
1. Giant cell arteritis, otherwise known as temporal arteritis. This is a disease of medium sized vessels that commonly presents with:

  • Shoulder and hip girdle stiffness and weakness
  • Headache at the temples
  • Weight loss
  • Sudden vision loss

Medium sized vessels around the head and neck are involved.

Untreated, this disease can lead to blindness and stroke and requires immediate medical attention. Diagnosis is made on the basis of clinical symptoms and confirmed by biopsy of the temporal artery.

Temporal artery biopsy is an office procedure done by a skilled surgeon and should be done at the time of suspected diagnosis.

Treatment is based on use of glucocorticoids. Certain other immunosuppressive medications are used to allow for reduction of use of steroids.

2. Wegener's Granulomatosis (granulomatosis with polyangitis)

This is a rare disease that effects sinus cavity and surrounding tissues, lungs and kidneys. Common symptoms are chronic sinus disease, breathing problems and cough and leg swelling. Inflammation creates damage to the local tissues and loss of organ function- lung and/or kidney.

Diagnosis is confirmed by presence of ANCA antibodies and tissue biopsy . Biopsy shows distinct vessel inflammation inflammation and granuloma formation.

This disease is characterized by a tendency for relapses. Treatment involves immunosuppressive medications to include glucocorticoids, DMARD and biological medications .

Fast Facts

  • Vasculitis is a vessel inflammation
  • Symptoms vary from mild to serious
  • There are various forms of vasculitis
  • Treatment requires immunosuppressive medications and skilled care