Vasculitis Explained

Vasculitis is a chronic condition that is characterised by inflammation of your blood vessels. It's a type of autoimmune disease, and the result of your body's immune system attacking your blood vessels include the narrowing, scarring and thickening of the blood vessel walls, which prevents sufficient blood flow through your arteries and leads to organ damage. It's not always possible to determine why a person develops vasculitis, but genetics are thought to play an important role. Additionally, those who already have an autoimmune condition, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, have an increased risk of developing vasculitis. Here's an overview of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of vasculitis:


Vasculitis can occur in any area of the body, and this can cause symptoms to vary from person to person, but common symptoms of the condition include fatigue, fever, weight loss, unexplained aches and pains and night sweats. Areas of numbness or weakness are also common and result from damage to surrounding nerve tissue. Some people also experience visual disturbances and persistent headaches.


Your doctor will diagnose vasculitis by taking details of your symptoms and taking blood samples to check your body's inflammatory markers and organ function status. Blood tests can also show whether your body is producing certain antibodies that are usually seen in those with vasculitis. Urine tests can show whether there's too much protein in your urine, which is a sign of inflammation. Ultrasound imaging will be used to determine what blood cells are affected and assess the degree of damage to surrounding organs and soft tissues. An ultrasound is painless, and your doctor can discuss their findings with you in real time as the ultrasound is being carried out. Being able to visualise the damage to your blood vessels and degree of narrowing in your arteries allows your doctor to formulate an effective treatment plan that will prevent further damage.


The goal of treatment for vasculitis is to get the inflammation under control and to prevent the condition flaring up again in the future and causing more damage. Treatment can include corticosteroids to bring down inflammation and immunosuppressant drugs, such as azathioprine or methotrexate, to dampen down your body's immune response and prevent further attacks on your vascular system. If you have arteries that are severely narrowed, you may require a surgical procedure, known as angioplasty, to widen them. This involves having a thin tube inserted into the artery. The tube has a balloon on the end of it, and the balloon is carefully inflated until it pushes against the artery wall and stretches it out to allow better blood flow.

If you're experiencing symptoms of vasculitis, book yourself a consultation with your doctor as soon as possible, as prompt diagnosis and treatment can prevent damage to your organs.