Encyclopedia / V / Vasculitis



Vasculitis is the inflammation and damage to blood vessels.


Vasculitis can affect any type and size of blood vessel in the body including arteries, arterioles, veins, venules, and capillaries.

Vasculitis leads to damage to the lining of vessels, with narrowing or blockage, so that the blood flow is restricted or stopped. As a result, the tissues supplied by the affected vessels are also damaged, or destroyed by lack of blood supply and oxygen.


The cause of vasculitis is not clearly understood, but it is thought to be caused by excessive amounts of antigen in the circulatory system.

An antigen is a foreign substance or protein in the body that can trigger an immune response. This response results in the production of an antibody (a protein that is made by white blood cells) that tries to combat the antigen.

Antibody-antigen reaction starts a chain of events culminating in the release of enzymes that cause vessel damage such as blood clots (pooling of blood that causes platelets and other blood components to stick together and adhere to the venous wall), occlusion (blood vessel closure), hemorrhage (bleeding) and tissue ischemia (tissue death due to lack of blood and oxygen).

Infection is important in the pathogenesis of some forms of vasculitis. In polyarteritis, 30-50 percent of patients have evidence of hepatitis B or C. Infective endocarditis and drug reactions (sulfas, penicillins, allopurinol) can also be associated with vasculitis.


Types Of Vasculitis

The vasculitic diseases are classified according to the size and depth of the predominant blood vessel that is involved. The classification/syndrome and signs and symptoms include:

Systemic necrotizing vasculitis/Polyarteritis nodosa

  • high blood pressure
  • muscle/joint/abdominal pain
  • headache
  • weakness
  • flu-like aching and fever

Hypersensitivity vasculitis/Hypersensitivity vasculitis

  • itchy skin eruption
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue

Wegener's granulomatosis/Wegener's granulomatosis

  • fever
  • pulmonary congestion
  • cough
  • weight loss
  • blood in the urine and nose
  • anorexia
  • inflammation of the nostrils and throat
  • pain in muscles and joints

Giant cell arteritis/Temporal arteritis

  • fever
  • muscle pain
  • jaw muscle dysfunction
  • visual changes
  • headache

Other vasculitic syndromes

Kawasaki disease

  • fever
  • swelling
  • congested conjunctivas
  • scaly skin
  • nonsuppurative cervical adenitis

Behcet's disease

  • recurrent oral ulcers
  • eye, genital and skin lesions

Other conditions associated with vasculitis include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Henoch-Schonlein purpura, erythema nodosum, and serum-sickness.


The diagnosis of vasculitis is based on the patient's history of symptoms, physical examination, and blood tests.

Depending on the type of vasculitic disease suspected, additional tests may be performed including a skin biopsy, angiogram, or radiological studies.


Treatment varies by specific disease but may include corticosteroids and/or immunosuppressive medications. Close follow-up with your physician is important to help prevent complications from the disease.


What caused this condition?

What type of vasculitic syndrome is it?

What is the treatment method(s)?

If drug therapy is proposed, what are the side effects of the medication?

Will this condition cause problems in other areas of the body?