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Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a general term used to refer to a group of disorders that destroys the blood vessels through inflammation. Vasculitis may affect arteries, veins and the capillaries. It is primarily characterized by an inflammation and damage to the walls of the blood vessels. Vasculitis is derived from the Latin word “vasculum,” which means vessel, and “itis” meaning inflammation.


What Causes Vasculitis

Vasculitis may be classified according to its cause as primary vasculitis or secondary vasculitis.

  • In its many forms, the cause of primary vasculitis is unknown.
  • As for secondary vasculitis, there is usually an underlying cause of the condition. These could include infections, immune system diseases, allergic reactions and blood cell cancers. In some conditions, vasculitis may be related to an ongoing infection as it tends to trigger an autoimmune response that targets the blood vessels. Hepatits B and Hepatitis C virus are two of the most common infection that can cause polyarteritis nodosa. On the other hand, immune system diseases that can lead to vasculitis include reheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome. Allergies and certain medications could also predispose a person to develop vasculitis. In addition, blood cell cancers like leukemia and lymphoma can also cause vasculitis.

Types of Vasculitis

Vasculitis may be classified according to its cause, the type of blood vessel, its location or its size. Phlebitis (veins) and arteritis (arteries) are the classification of vasculitis dependent on the type of blood vessel involved.

Signs and Symptoms of Vasculitis

Signs and symptoms of vasculitis vary greatly depending on the blood vessels involved.

  • General symptoms would include fever, weight loss and appetite loss.
  • The skin may also develop palpable purpura, which are red or purple discoloration of the skin brought about by bleeding in the tissues.
  • Nervous systems problems such as numbness, weakness, reduced visual acuity or vision loss, stroke, tinnitus and headache may also be experienced.
  • Other symptoms could also include nose bleed, bloody cough and stool as well as abdominal pains.

Diagnostic tools for Vasculitis

  • Blood tests and body fluid tests of a person suffering from vasculitis would usually indicate inflammation.
  • In addition, certain organ function tests would indicate abnormality. For instance, creatinine levels would be elevated if the kidneys are already affected.
  • Biopsy of the blood vessels would be the defining factor to confirm the diagnosis for vasculitis. This could include tissue samples from the skin, lungs, nerves, sinuses and kidneys.
  • Angiogram may also be indicated as an alternative to biopsy. It is a radiographic imaging of the blood vessel that would require the injection of a contrast medium. However, this procedure is contraindicated for people who may have dye allergy or IV allergies as this utilizes a radiopaque contrast medium.

Treatments for Vasculitis

There is no specific cure for vasculitis. Instead, the main goal of treatment is to stop the inflammation and to suppress the immune system to prevent further attacks on the blood vessels. Preventing serious complications is also an important treatment plan.

  • Corticosteroid medications like prednsisone are usually the treatment of choice as it suppresses the inflammatory response of the immune system.
  • Other immunosuppressive drugs like cyclophosphamide may also be considered depending on the case of severity as well as the type and location of a patient’s vasculitis. However, it is important to note that taking in immunosuppressive drugs should be done under the physician’s orders as these are usually corticosteroids. This means that these drugs are synthetic hormones that have a wide range of effect encompassing physiological processes like stress and immune response, carbohydrate metabolism, blood electrolyte levels, protein catabolism and inflammation. They should therefore be regulated to ensure proper dosing of the drug.
  • Moreover, drug treatments utilized are usually combined therapies so it is also important that a patient inform their physician regarding other drugs that the patient is also taking in.
  • Also, there are cases of vasculitis that would require the management of a multidisciplinary group. This is because some cases may need specialists to address specific organ problems like the heart and kidneys, which would require the attention of a cardiologist and nephrologist respectively.
  • Topical medications may also be used and applied to sores. These could help address the pain and discomfort as these usually contain anti-inflammatory agents like corticosteroids and even anesthetics in other preparations.

In addition, the symptoms of vasculitis may be controlled as long as the patient complies with proper medication, eat a well-balanced diet, practice a healthy lifestyle and exercise regularly. Swimming and walking are the best forms of exercises once the symptoms of vasculitis have disappeared. Another important thing to know is that remission may also be prevalent among patients suffering from vasculitis so it would be best to have regular check up with one’s physician to prevent its recurrence.

References:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/vasculitis.html

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vasculitis/DS00513/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1008239-treatment

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