What is vasculitis?
Vasculitis means that the blood vessels are inflamed. When part of your body is inflamed, it swells and is usually uncomfortable or painful. Blood vessels are the tubes which carry blood around your body. There are three types of blood vessel which can be affected by vasculitis:
(1) Arteries, which take blood from the heart to various parts of the body.
(2) Veins, which take blood back to the heart.
(3) Capillaries, which are tiny vessels between the arteries and the veins where oxygen and other materials pass from the blood into the tissues
What are the causes of vasculitis?
There is no one cause, and in most cases the cause is unknown. We do know that vasculitis is not directly inherited. We know what causes some types of vasculitis – for example, drugs and a variety of infections, particularly those associated with hepatitis, can cause small vessel vasculitis.
What are the major manifestations of vasculitis?
Vasculitis can affect any system producing an almost infinite range of symptoms. Frequently however, the initial presentation of a vasculitis will be as a skin lesion.
What should you expect from the doctor?
Full history should be taken and in view of the systemic nature of many vasculitic diseases, a complete physical examination should be carried out including central nervous system and ENT examination.
How is vasculitis diagnosed?
Depending on the degree of organ involvement, a variety of organ function tests can be abnormal. The diagnosis of vasculitis is definitively established after a biopsy of involved tissue demonstrates the pattern of blood vessel inflammation. An alternative to biopsy can be an x-ray test of the blood vessels called an angiogram, which can demonstrate characteristic patterns of inflammation in affected blood vessels.
What are the treatment options for vasculitis?
Glucocorticoids are an important part of therapy for most forms of vasculitis.Other immunosuppressive agents are used either because the disease is so severe that glucocorticoids alone are insufficient treatment, or because the long-term side-effects of these other drugs are less severe than those of glucocorticoids.
Cyclophosphamide is the strongest of these immunosuppressive drugs and is used to treat severe diseases. Methotrexate, Azathioprineare used more widely in treating other rheumatic diseases are also used to treat non-life-threatening vasculitis and are useful as steroid-sparing agents.
Plasma exchange and intravenous immunoglobulin are sometimes used in severe cases of particular forms of vasculitis that are thought to be caused by circulating autoantibodies.
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