There are many different types of vasculitis that affect different blood vessels throughout the body.
Types of vasculitis include the following.
Vasculitis occurs when your immune system injures your blood vessels by mistake. What causes this to happen is not fully known, but when it occurs, your blood vessels become inflamed and can narrow or close off. Rarely, the blood vessel wall may weaken, causing it to expand or bulge. This bulge is known as an aneurysm.
Do you want to know more about what causes vasculitis?
Inflammation is part of your body’s immune response against chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and other harmful substances. When organs are in danger, your body sends special cells to protect them. These immune cells release chemicals that recruit other cells to isolate and destroy the harmful substance. This also causes the pain, heat, swelling, and redness of inflammation. The inflammation normally goes away after the harmful substance goes away. In vasculitis, the inflammation continues.
Your risk for a specific type of vasculitis may be higher because of your age, your family history and genetics, infections you have, your lifestyle habits, medicines you take, other medical conditions you have, your race or ethnicity, and your sex.
Vasculitis can happen at any age. However, some types of vasculitis are more common among people of certain ages.
Your genes are thought to play a role in some types of vasculitis.
Your risk for vasculitis is higher if you engage in certain habits, including:
The risk of vasculitis is higher if you take certain medicines, including:
Vasculitis occurs more often in people with certain conditions, including:
Some types of vasculitis are more common among people of certain ethnic backgrounds.
Some types of vasculitis are more common in men or women.
There are no methods to screen for vasculitis. You may be able to prevent some types of vasculitis by adopting healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking.
The signs, symptoms, and complications of vasculitis vary depending on which type of vasculitis you have, the organs involved, and the severity of the condition. Some people may have few signs and symptoms. Other people may become very sick.
Sometimes the signs and symptoms develop slowly, over months. The signs and symptoms may also develop very quickly, over days or weeks. Some people have general signs and symptoms, such as:
Vasculitis may lead to the following problems in particular organs or parts of your body:
Inflammation from vasculitis can block normal blood flow, which can damage parts of the body. Complications depend on which parts of the body are damaged, and they can be life-threatening. They include:
It may be possible for your doctor to diagnose the type of vasculitis that you have and how severe or advanced it is. Depending on your signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend you to a specialist for tests or do diagnostic tests or procedures.
Depending on the organs affected, your doctor may refer you to one or more of the following specialists:
Learn more about the diagnostic tests and procedures your doctor may use to diagnose your vasculitis.
Diagnosis of vasculitis can be difficult. Some types of vasculitis cannot be diagnosed with a test. Instead, your doctor will diagnose you based on your symptoms or complications.
For other types of vasculitis, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests and procedures:
Treatment for vasculitis will depend on the type of vasculitis you have, which organs are affected, and the severity of the condition. The goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation. People who have mild vasculitis may find relief with over-the-counter pain medicines. For severe vasculitis, your doctor may prescribe medicines. Surgery to treat vasculitis is rare.
Some of the medicines your doctor may prescribe for vasculitis include:
If medicines do not work to treat vasculitis, your doctor may recommend plasmapheresis or surgery.
While you are being treated for vasculitis, you will need to see your doctor regularly.
Return to Treatment to review possible treatment options for vasculitis.
To monitor your condition, your doctor may recommend the following tests and procedures.
Most women who have vasculitis have no problems during pregnancy. However, vasculitis can raise the risk to mother and baby.
After vasculitis is treated and goes into remission, you may have flares, which are a repeat occurrence of signs and symptoms. You may have different symptoms than when you first had vasculitis.
Part of the goal of vasculitis treatment is avoiding flares.
To help you prevent or treat some of the complications of vasculitis, your doctor may recommend medicines, healthy lifestyle changes, or procedures.
Medicines may include:
Healthy lifestyle changes include:
If you think that you are or someone else is having symptoms of one of these conditions, call 9-1-1 immediately. Every minute matters.
Aneurysm rupture or dissection
Signs and symptoms of a dissection or rupture may include:
Signs of heart attack include mild or severe chest pain or discomfort in the center of the chest or upper abdomen that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, heartburn, or indigestion. There may also be pain down the left arm. Women may also have chest pain and pain down the left arm, but they are more likely to have symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, unusual tiredness, and pain in the back, shoulders, or jaw.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
If you think someone may be having a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), act F.A.S.T. and do the following simple test.
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Early treatment is essential.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of a stroke.
Learn about the following ways in which the NHLBI continues to translate current research and science into improved health for people who have vasculitis. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing heart and vascular disease scientific discovery.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing vasculitis research, in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about vasculitis.
We lead or sponsor many studies on vasculitis. See whether you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Vasculitis Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.