Vasculitis is an inflammation of your blood vessels. Vasculitis causes changes in the walls of your blood vessels, including thickening, weakening, narrowing and scarring.
There are many types of vasculitis. Some forms last only a short time while others are long lasting. Vasculitis can be so severe that the tissues and organs supplied by the affected vessels don't get enough blood. This shortage of blood can result in organ and tissue damage, even death.
Vasculitis occurs when your immune system mistakenly sees blood vessel cells as foreign. The immune system then attacks those cells as if they were an invader, such as a bacteria or virus. It's not always clear why this happens, but an infection, some cancers, certain immune system disorders or an allergic reaction may serve as the trigger.
Blood vessels affected by vasculitis become inflamed, which can cause the layers of the blood vessel wall to thicken. This narrows the blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood, and therefore oxygen and vital nutrients, that reaches your body's tissues. In some cases, a blood clot may form in an affected blood vessel, obstructing blood flow. Sometimes instead of becoming narrower, a blood vessel may weaken and form an aneurysm, a potentially life-threatening condition.
The signs and symptoms of vasculitis vary depending on which blood vessels and, as a result, which organ systems are affected. However, general signs and symptoms that many people with vasculitis experience include:
- Weight loss
- Muscle and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nerve problems, such as numbness or weakness
Specific treatment for vasculitis depends on what kind of vasculitis you have, how serious your condition is and your general health. Though some types of vasculitis are self-limiting and improve on their own, others require medications.
Medications used to treat vasculitis include: Steroids to control inflammation and medications to control the immune system.
Coping and support:
When vasculitis is identified and treated early, the prognosis is usually good. One of your greatest challenges may be coping with side effects of your medication.
Eating well can help prevent potential problems that can result from your medications, such as thinning bones, high blood pressure and diabetes. Choose a diet that emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats and fish. Ask your doctor if you need to take a vitamin D or calcium supplement. Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, can help prevent bone loss, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also benefits your heart and lungs. In addition, many people find that exercise improves their mood and overall sense of well-being. If you're not used to exercising, start out slowly and build up gradually.