Vasculitis means inflammation of the blood vessels, which includes the veins, arteries, and capillaires. When a blood vessel becomes inflamed, it can narrow which makes it difficult for blood to get through. The blood vessel can also stretch and weaken so much to the point that is bulges; the bulge is called an aneurysm and it can cause dangerous internal bleeding if it bursts. As a result, it can also affect any organ in the body because it reduces blood flow to organs and tissues, including the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system.
The exact cause of vasculitis is often unknown, but it can occur when the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessel by mistake. It can also occur due to an infection, another disease, or triggered by an allergic reaction to medicine. Suggestive symptoms of vasculitis include ongoing fever, swelling, malaise, weight loss. In the older population, vasculitis can co-occur with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), an inflammatory condition that presents with shoulder and hip pain in the setting of elevated inflammatory markers detected on bloodwork.
Anyone can be affected by vasculitis, although some types can occur more frequently in people who have autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It can be difficult to diagnose vasculitis since symptoms are similar to other diseases, such as vasoconstriction, a non-inflammatory disease that decreases the diameter of a blood vessel due to muscle contraction in the vessel. Onset of vasculitis symptoms may begin suddenly or develop over time and include:
- Prolonged headaches
- Malaise, or general feeling out-of-sorts
- Rapid weight loss
- Confusion or forgetfulness that leads to dementia
- Aches and pains in the joints and muscles
- Pain while chewing or swallowing
- Paralysis or numbness typically in the arms or legs
- Visual disturbances, such as double vision, blurred vision, or blindness
- Seizures or convulsions
- Stroke or transient ischemic attack
- Unusual rashes of skin discoloration
- Kidney problems or other organs
The types of treatment and its duration is contingent upon each individual patient’s vasculitis symptoms. After patient assessment by a rheumatologist, it is common for long-term treatment goals to be needed in order to manage symptoms. There are effective medications used to treat vasculitis, such as glucocorticoid drugs, or steroids, like prednisone. Due to the anti-inflammatory effect and rapid response, this type of medication is often used as the primary treatment and are also prescribed with other immunosuppressive medications. Immunosuppressant, or cytotoxic, drugs help to decrease or stop the function of immune cells. Furthermore, a medication called Rituximan, which is a monoclonal antibody, targets immune cells that are functioning abnormally and destroys them. This helps to stop the inflammation and prevent flare-ups.