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Vasculitis

Definition

Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels.

What is going on in the body?

Blood vessels can become inflamed for many reasons. There are different types of vasculitis based on the size and type of blood vessel involved and the pattern of inflammation. Inflammation of blood vessels can lead to serious problems in the body, such as blocking blood flow.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Inflammation of blood vessels may occur in response to:
  • medication.
  • allergic reactions.
  • infections.
  • toxic chemical exposure.
  • underlying diseases, such as autoimmune disorders. These are conditions in which a person's immune system attacks their own body.
  • inherited conditions.
  • smoking.
The primary risk of this condition is that blood flow may be reduced to body tissues. These tissues may then become damaged or destroyed. If the tissue or organ is important, such as the brain, eyes, heart, lungs, or other important organs, serious body damage and disability may result. Death can occur in severe forms of this condition.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

There is no known way to prevent most cases. Avoidance of smoking can prevent one rare form of this condition.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Clinical history and physical exam often make a healthcare professional suspect this condition. Special tests, such as blood and x-ray tests, and biopsy are often needed to diagnose and categorize the type of vasculitis. A biopsy is a procedure to take a small piece of tissue from an affected area of the body. The tissue can then be studied under a microscope and with other special tests if needed.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Most long-term problems are related to the areas of the body that are involved, such as the kidneys. Permanent damage can occur to important organs in some cases. Death may occur in severe cases.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are no risks to others, as this condition is not contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

The underlying problem that caused the vasculitis needs to be treated first if possible. For example, a medication may need to be stopped. Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, and other medications to suppress the immune system may be needed.

Other immune suppressants or even chemotherapy have been used in more severe settings. Studies are underway to evaluate the role of other classes of agents such as antibody therapy (biological therapy).

Further treatment may be needed for specific areas of body damage, such as treatment for kidney failure.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

All medications have potential side effects. Side effects will vary depending on which drugs are used.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Depending upon the cause of the vasculitis, it may completely clear or it may become a chronic problem needing long-term treatment. In more severe cases, severe and debilitating states may arise, even death.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Affected people are asked to monitor their symptoms. Repeat exams, blood tests, and x-ray tests may be needed. The medications used for treatment may also need to be monitored.

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