Cutaneous vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessels in the skin. It particularly affects small and medium-sized blood vessels, such as the arterioles, capillaries and venules. Arterioles are small arteries or blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Capillaries are very tiny blood vessels that connect the veins to the arteries. Venules are small veins that are mostly responsible in transporting unoxygenated blood towards the heart.
There are several characteristic symptoms of cutaneous vasculitis. A rash is frequently seen in the skin surface, forming small red blotches known as petechiae or large bruises known as ecchymosis. Other manifestations of the disorder are macules and papules, which are wheal or lump formations in the skin. Patients may also present with fever, swelling of the lower legs, redness, and pruritus or itching.
This condition is usually self-limiting, with symptoms resolving within two weeks to several months, depending on the severity of the inflammation. Infection is commonly the cause of this condition, but it can also be caused by certain cancers, autoimmune diseases, and hypersensitivity or allergy to drugs. Autoimmune diseases are caused by an abnormal response of the body to its own cells. One example is rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is a condition manifested by chronic inflammations mostly of the joints, but may also involve the skin and blood vessels.
Cutaneous vasculitis can be divided into three kinds: acute, subacute and chronic. An acute case can be alarming because of the damage it does in the tissues and the affected blood vessels. When blood vessels are inflamed, it can obstruct the blood supply to the surrounding tissues and result in tissue death. This is often triggered by infection.
Subacute cases are less serious and usually resolve in just a week. Typically, small petechiae are evident and are accompanied by flushing or warm sensations in the affected limb. Chronic vasculitis usually forms macules and papules in areas of the body where blood vessels are dominant. This is related to chronic infections such as hepatitis B, which is a viral infection.
Diagnostic tests are used to determine the underlying disease involved that precipitated this condition, and urine and blood tests are usually requested to rule out any infection. After confirming the cause, medications are often prescribed to treat the underlying condition and to relieve the symptoms. Outlook for patients with cutaneous vasculitis is generally favorable because treatment is readily available and complications are not likely to occur.