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Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels.

What is going on in the body?
Blood vessels can become inflamed for many reasons. There are different types of vasculitis based on the size and type of blood vessel involved and the pattern of inflammation. Inflammation of blood vessels can lead to serious problems in the body, such as blocking blood flow.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Most cases involve blood vessels in the skin, but just about any blood vessel in the body can be involved. Exact symptoms depend on the type of vasculitis present. This condition may cause:
  • tender red or purple bumps on the skin.
  • open sores on the skin.
  • depression.
  • fatigue.
  • high blood pressure.
  • damage to the body if blood flow stops in the inflamed blood vessels. For example, vasculitis may lead to a heart attack, loss of vision, kidney failure, lung damage, and other body damage.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Inflammation of blood vessels may occur in response to:
  • medication.
  • allergic reactions.
  • infections.
  • toxic chemical exposure.
  • underlying diseases, such as autoimmune disorders. These are conditions in which a person's immune system attacks their own body.
  • inherited conditions.
  • smoking.
The primary risk of this condition is that blood flow may be reduced to body tissues. These tissues may then become damaged or destroyed. If the tissue or organ is important, such as the brain, eyes, heart, lungs, or other important organs, serious body damage and disability may result. Death can occur in severe forms of this condition.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
There is no known way to prevent most cases. Avoidance of smoking can prevent one rare form of this condition.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Clinical history and physical examination often make a doctor suspect this condition. Special tests, such as blood and x-ray tests, and biopsy are often needed to diagnose and categorise the type of vasculitis. A biopsy is a procedure to take a small piece of tissue from an affected area of the body. The tissue can then be studied under a microscope and with other special tests if needed.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Most long-term problems are related to the areas of the body that are involved, such as the kidneys. Permanent damage can occur to important organs in some cases. Death may occur in severe cases.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others, as this condition is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition?
The underlying problem that caused the vasculitis needs to be treated first if possible. For example, a medication may need to be stopped.

Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and other medications to suppress the immune system may be needed.

Further treatment may be needed for specific areas of body damage, such as treatment for kidney failure.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications have potential side effects. Side effects will vary depending on which drugs are used.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Depending upon the cause of the vasculitis, it may completely clear or it may become a chronic problem needing long-term treatment.

How is the condition monitored?
Affected people are asked to monitor their symptoms. Repeat examinations, blood tests, and x-ray tests may be needed. The medications used for treatment may also need to be monitored.

Author: Lynn West, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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