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What is Vasculitis?

This is a question that I get asked in my practice. What is Vasculitis and what does it mean?

We all know what Rheumatoid Arthritis is, or at least we have a good sense that it is an arthritis that you need drugs to treat. We have a picture about what Rheumatoid Arthritis is. Vasculitis on the other hand is not something that is fully understood and there are many different types of vasculitis.

In short, vasculitis is a condition where you get inflammation of the blood vessels.

The type of vasculitis and the type of problems that it causes depend on which type of blood vessels are affected and where in the body these blood vessels are affected. There are many different types of blood vessels in the body from the smallest capillaries, to arteries big and small and veins big and small. They can all be inflamed.

Our understanding of vasculitis medically is constantly in evolution. There are different patterns of inflammation as well that mean things medically and this can have an implication both for treatment of the vasculitis and the outcome of the vasculitis.

Vasculitis is usually an autoimmune condition meaning that there is primary inflammation of the body’s own immune system directing and attacking itself in various parts.

Vasculitis can also be caused by infections, both viruses and bacteria, with the vasculitis clearing once the infection has been treated and cleared usually, unless there are long term sequelae. Allergies and drugs can also cause vasculitis.

Vasculitis can occur as part of autoimmune connective tissue diseases such as Systemic Lupus, but it can occur as an autoimmune disease in its own right with there being many different types of identified vasculitis such as Wegeners Granulomatosis, Polyarteritis Nodosa, microscopic polyarteritis, and Giant Cell Arteritis, also known as Temporal Arteritis.

The symptoms caused depend on where the inflammation is.

If it is in the skin – there will be a rash.

If it is in the lung – there will be breathing issues, possibly cough, possibly coughing up blood

If it is in the kidneys – there will be protein +/- blood in the urine and possibly renal impairment if not failure.

If it is in the brain – there will be cerebral ill effects.

Usually there are also systemic effects with a vasculitis such as fatigue, aches and pains and sometimes joint aches.

Vasculitis can be a serious condition and may be life threatening if certain organs are involved.

If you think that you have vasculitis do not hesitate to see your GP to get tested and to get a referral to a specialist Rheumatologist as getting the best possible treatment early is the best thing for your health.

Do not delay getting the best possible medical attention.


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