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What is Vasculitis?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Vasculitis is a blanket term used for a number of diseases, all of which are characterized by an inflammation of the blood vessel walls. It is not a common set of diseases, but it is definitely a cause for concern. Some forms of this condition include Wegener’s Granulomatosis, Behcet’s disease, Kawasaki disease, Churg-Strauss Syndrome, Henoch Schonlein Purpura, and Takayasu’s Arteritis. It may also be referred to as angiitis, and more specific subsets may be called either arteritis if arteries are inflamed or venulitis if veins are inflamed.

The root cause of vasculitis is not known, though in many cases it is connected to immunological damage. Different forms require different treatments, but in general, a steroid treatment is used at some point to assist in recovery. Medication such as prednisone may be used in initial treatment, as may immune suppressants, such as Cytoxan. Treatment of this condition is still evolving in the modern medical field, but for the most part, all treatments focus on reducing inflammation in the arteries and targeting the organs that have been affected and helping them to better function.

This condition is usually divided into three main categories: small vessel, medium-sized vessel, and large vessel vasculitis. The small vessel type includes Churg-Strauss Syndrome and Henoch Schonlein Purpura and can target blood vessels in organs such as the skin and lungs. Medium vessel vasculitis includes Wegener’s Granulomatosis and attacks medium-sized arteries, such as those in the heart and respiratory system. The large vessel type includes Takayasu’s Arteritis and primarily affects the vessels of the aorta.

Initial diagnosis of vasculitis is usually accomplished through lab work performed on blood or other bodily fluids. Depending on the form, irregularities may show up in any number of organs. Once vasculitis is suspected, the initial diagnosis is either confirmed or rejected based on a biopsy of tissue from the indicated organ. If the diagnosis is confirmed, an inflammation of the blood vessels will be apparent. An alternative to a physical biopsy for medium and large vasculitis is a type of X-ray known as arteriography, but in general, a biopsy is preferred to provide more evidence.

Vasculitis may develop seemingly spontaneously, or it may accompany a number of other ailments or high-risk activities. These include certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma; rheumatoid diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis; the use of some chemicals, such as cocaine; and certain infections, most commonly hepatitis B.

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Discussion Comments
By anon266592 — On May 07, 2012

@Mammmood: There are numerous accounts from people who've simply gotten rid of most of their inflammatory problems by eliminating certain foods from their diet (mainly those containing gluten and casein). For some reason, "mainstream" medicine easily ignores this.

In my opinion, the two main factors behind autoimmune diseases such as vasculitis are internal (mental) and external (body-level) stress. The first one is often the trigger that activates organism's response to environmental stressors such as certain pollens, chemicals, food ingredients, etc. The way the organism reacts to selected stressors is probably determined by genes. The type of mental stress may also play a role here. Psychological denial seems to be a common trigger of autoimmune over-response, like the defense reaction was somehow projected from psyche to soma.

By Mammmood — On Dec 06, 2011

@miriam98 - I seriously doubt diet has anything to do with this. The article mentions possible links to existing diseases like cancer. That would make more sense as the possible triggers in my opinion. When a person has cancer the tumor takes up space in the body, and it would make sense that nearby blood vessels would be inflamed.

By miriam98 — On Dec 05, 2011

It doesn’t mention the vasculitis symptoms because vasculitis is the general term for the inflammation of the blood vessels. There are a variety of specific diseases that come under that umbrella term and these diseases are mentioned in the article.

What’s curious is that they don’t know what causes it. I am surprised they can’t trace what causes inflammation. We certainly know how to treat inflammation, using so called NSAIDS (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs).

I think inflammation should be easily traceable. I am not a doctor, but I would consider diet as a culprit in many cases.

By hamje32 — On Dec 04, 2011

Although it doesn’t come right out and say it, I would expect that vasculitis could be implicated in heart disease as well. I notice the article mentions the term “angiitis,” which sounds similar to “angina.”

I am surprised that we read no symptoms of vasculitis, but if it is similar to angina, then I think that we should see comparable symptoms to that condition, chest pain being one of them. I would also think that fever and shortness breath would be part of the mix as well.

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