Vasculitis refers to a group of diseases in which inflammation of the blood vessels is the hallmark feature. Such inflammation can cause narrowing and weakness of the vessel lining, and in some instances a tendency to form small clots in the affected vessels. This can result in damage to the tissues or organs being supplied by those blood vessels, including the kidney, lung, skin, nerves, or even the brain.
Patients with vasculitis may also have pain and fever because of the systemic inflammation. Blood vessels throughout the body, including the major veins and arteries may be affected and damage to one or more organs may occur. The severity of the condition ranges considerably from mild cases to those that are disabling or even life threatening.
Vasculitis can occur spontaneously as a disease unto itself, or in other instances can occur in the context of a broader autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. In those autoimmune diseases, the body perceives its own tissue as "foreign" and the immune system attacks the body’s own cells. Vasculitis may also be a reaction to certain medications or in the presence of certain chronic infections.
Symptoms of vasculitis are related to the part or parts of the body affected. For example, vasculitis affecting the vessels close to the skin’s surface are characterized by rash, whereas forms of the disease that affect blood vessels that supply the nerves may cause alterations in sensation. Treatment for vasculitis may involve monitoring in mild cases, but prompt intervention with immunosuppressant therapy may be required in patients with more aggressive forms of condition. Accurate diagnosis by a rheumatologist is essential as these are generally very treatable diseases as long as the diagnosis is made before significant organ damage occurs.