Inflammatory Vasculitis

Inflammatory vasculitis means that the blood vessels are inflamed. Inflammation occurs when the body responds to what it sees as an injury or harmful foreign substance. It may involve pain, redness, warmth, swelling, and loss of function in the affected tissues. Like lupus, vasculitis is thought to be an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks in its attempt to protect. In vasculitis, the immune system attacks the blood vessels.

For comprehensive information about vasculitis visit National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Following is a summary of the information from the NHLBI) most relevant to people with lupus.

Who gets Vasculitis?
Vasculitis can affect people of all ages and races and both sexes. People with other autoimmune diseases such as lupus are at risk.

Vasculitis in Lupus
Vasculitis is one of the potential complications of lupus as the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels. Blood vessels include arteries, veins and capillaries which carry blood through the body and back to your heart.

When the inside of the blood vessel is inflamed or swollen, it can narrow and limit blood from flowing freely. Damage can occur when organs do not get enough blood. The effects of vasculitis depend on where the inflamed blood vessel is and which organs it reaches.

Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of vasculitis vary depending on the type of vasculitis you have, the organs involved, and the severity of the condition. Often, it causes symptoms typical with any type of inflammation -- fever, swelling, tiredness, achies and pains, loss of appetite.

Symptoms can include the following depending on the organ affected:

Arthritis symptoms, aches and pain

Red or purple spots, bruises, or rash

Heaviness in the chest when exercising

Fever, cough, shortness of breath

Headaches, difficulty thinking clearly, unusual behavior, seizures, stroke, muscle weakness

Blurry vision; itchy or burning, sensitivity to light.

Vasculitis is diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms, your medical history, a physical exam, and test results.  Your doctor may suggest a specialist depending on your symptoms. People with lupus may already be seeing a rheumatologist specializing in joint and muscles. Other doctors you might see specialize in skin, lung, kidney, nervous system, heart, etc.

Treatment also depends on the type of vasculitis, organs affected and the severity. For mild vasculitis doctors often suggest over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
Severe vasculitis is usually treated with prescription medicines.  Medications used to treat vasculitis include common treatments for lupus. Corticosteroids help reduce the inflammation in the blood vessels. Cytotoxic medicines such as methotrexate and cyclophosphamide, also used in treating lupus, can kill the cells that are causing the inflammation.
Rarely, surgery may be done.