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What Is Small Vessel Vasculitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2016
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Small vessel vasculitis refers to inflammation in blood vessels smaller than the arteries, such as capillaries, arterioles, and venules. It can have a number of causes which can be important considerations in the development of a treatment plan. Some patients simply need supportive care while the inflammation resolves on its own, while others may require invasive medical procedures to prevent systemic organ failure. Treatment can involve input from a variety of medical professionals.

Symptoms of this condition can depend on the cause but may include rashes, fever, and pain. Patients with small vessel vasculitis may report that the symptoms appear to be migrating through the body, and may say they had flu-like symptoms for several days as well. Sometimes dark spots may appear along with rashes and patients can develop severe bone and joint pain. Problems with specific organs like the intestines or liver can develop if their blood supply is interrupted by the disease.

Diagnosis can be complicated, because a number of conditions can cause similar symptoms and some process of elimination may be involved to correctly identify the problem. The medical provider may ask for a biopsy if blood vessel involvement is suspected, and can ask for blood tests to check for high levels of white blood cells and other signs of inflammation. Imaging studies are sometimes helpful to check on the patient’s circulation and look for indicators of thickening and irritation in the walls of the blood vessels.

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Immediate small vessel vasculitis treatment usually involves medications to suppress the inflammation. These drugs mediate the immune response to allow the vessels to recover. Medical support may also be necessary to address specific problems, like kidney damage or heart problems. Patients with permanent damage may require life-long medical care for injuries caused by small vessel vasculitis, especially if it is not caught and treated quickly.

Some examples of conditions that can cause small vessel vasculitis include Churg-Strauss syndrome, Wegener’s granulomatosis, and Henoch-Schönlein purpura. Additional treatment may be required for some disorders to prevent recurrence and to address the underlying cause of inflammation. People with a history of small vessel vasculitis that may have injured internal organs may want to make sure it is noted prominently on their medical records because this information could be important in the future. A history of kidney impairment, for example, can be a cause for concern when a patient’s kidneys appear to be functioning abnormally.

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