Vasculitis is a blanket term used for a number of diseases, all of which are characterized by an inflammation of the blood vessel walls. It is not a common set of diseases, but it is definitely a cause for concern. Some forms of this condition include Wegener’s Granulomatosis, Behcet’s disease, Kawasaki disease, Churg-Strauss Syndrome, Henoch Schonlein Purpura, and Takayasu’s Arteritis. It may also be referred to as angiitis, and more specific subsets may be called either arteritis if arteries are inflamed or venulitis if veins are inflamed.
The root cause of vasculitis is not known, though in many cases it is connected to immunological damage. Different forms require different treatments, but in general, a steroid treatment is used at some point to assist in recovery. Medication such as prednisone may be used in initial treatment, as may immune suppressants, such as Cytoxan. Treatment of this condition is still evolving in the modern medical field, but for the most part, all treatments focus on reducing inflammation in the arteries and targeting the organs that have been affected and helping them to better function.
This condition is usually divided into three main categories: small vessel, medium-sized vessel, and large vessel vasculitis. The small vessel type includes Churg-Strauss Syndrome and Henoch Schonlein Purpura and can target blood vessels in organs such as the skin and lungs. Medium vessel vasculitis includes Wegener’s Granulomatosis and attacks medium-sized arteries, such as those in the heart and respiratory system. The large vessel type includes Takayasu’s Arteritis and primarily affects the vessels of the aorta.
Initial diagnosis of vasculitis is usually accomplished through lab work performed on blood or other bodily fluids. Depending on the form, irregularities may show up in any number of organs. Once vasculitis is suspected, the initial diagnosis is either confirmed or rejected based on a biopsy of tissue from the indicated organ. If the diagnosis is confirmed, an inflammation of the blood vessels will be apparent. An alternative to a physical biopsy for medium and large vasculitis is a type of X-ray known as arteriography, but in general, a biopsy is preferred to provide more evidence.
Vasculitis may develop seemingly spontaneously, or it may accompany a number of other ailments or high-risk activities. These include certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma; rheumatoid diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis; the use of some chemicals, such as cocaine; and certain infections, most commonly hepatitis B.