What is Vasculitis?
Vasculitis refers to the inflammation of blood vessels, which may damage blood vessel linings and sometimes decrease blood flow or block it completely. Vasculitis is also known as arteritis or angiitis. It causes changes in blood vessel walls, which can include narrowing, thickening, weakening and scarring.
Vasculitis may be short-term and acute or long-term and chronic. In some cases, body organs can be affected, particularly if they don’t get enough nutrients or oxygen-rich blood. This causes organ damage and may cause death.
While there’s no known cause for most forms of vasculitis, an autoimmune condition may contribute to it. Allergic reactions, viral infection or even blood vessel damage from the sun’s UV rays can cause vasculitis.
Vasculitis usually affects both genders in equal numbers. It’s rather common in older adults (x).
Symptoms of vasculitis do vary, but typically include swelling, fever and an overall sense of feeling sick. Stopping inflammation is the main aim of treatment. Steroids and other medications to rid the body of inflammation are often useful (x).
Types of Vasculitis
Many types of vasculitis exist, with each distinguished by the organs involved, size of blood vessels involved and presence of antibodies known as antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies, or ANCAs for short (x).
This is the inflammation of medium-sized and small arteries. It may affect many kinds of blood vessels, such as the arteries that supply the heart, intestines and kidneys with blood. The hepatitis B virus is sometimes strongly suspected of causing polyarteritis nodosa — one of the few conditions where more men than women are affected.
This type almost exclusively affects women under the age of 40. Inflammation develops in major blood vessels like the aorta (the artery exiting the heart). People with this form of vasculitis can feel weak, lightheaded and dizzy and suffer acute muscle pain. The leg and arm arteries can become so narrow from the vasculitis that it may not be possible to feel any pulse in the legs or arms, despite normal pressure.
This is the inflammation of medium and large blood vessels that move blood to your heart. If the inflammation affects the neck, upper body and arm arteries, it typically classifies as giant cell arteries.
This is the inflammation of blood vessels in the sinuses, lungs and kidneys. It has symptoms like coughing, breathing difficulty, bloody nasal discharge, bloody urine and chest pain. The result from an ANCA test is often positive.
This most often affects persons aged 20-40. It affects more men, but it also may affect women. It’s more common in individuals of Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean origin (x) but seldom affects black people (x).
Researchers think that a gene known as HLA-B51 may contribute to Behcet’s disease (x). Not everyone with the gene develops the disease, however.
This refers to the inflammation of blood vessel walls throughout the body. It’s a rare childhood condition that can affect any vessel, including arteries, capillaries and veins (x).
Kawasaki disease is also called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, because the condition is linked to the redness of mucus membranes present in the mouth and eyes, enlarged lymph nodes and redness of skin.
Kawasaki disease can sometimes affect the arteries that carry oxygen-filled blood to the heart (known as coronary arteries). Therefore, a few kids with Kawasaki disease may suffer serious heart problems.
Symptoms of Vasculitis
Vasculitis has varying signs and symptoms, depending on the form of vasculitis, severity of the disease and organs involved. Some people may experience fewer symptoms, while others may become very ill. Sometimes symptoms develop gradually over several months. Other times symptoms develop quickly, within days or weeks. Vasculitis may present with systemic symptoms, which may affect specific body systems and organs (x).
Systemic Vasculitis Symptoms
These are symptoms which affect the whole body and often appear together. General aches and pains along with fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss are common.
Joint Pain and Poor Skin
Arthritis or aching in at least one joint is common with this condition. Red or purple spots or lumps on the skin, as well as bunches of small dots, bruises, hives or splotches itching, may also occur.
Gastrointestinal and Muscle Issues
Stomach pain is possible. In serious cases, restricted blood flow to the intestines may cause rupture or weakening of intestines. Numbness, weakness and tingling in various body parts is also common, including loss of strength or feeling in the feet and hands.
Causes of Vasculitis
Sometimes an autoimmune condition triggers vasculitis. Autoimmune conditions develop when the immune system creates antibodies that attack and destroy the body’s own cells and tissues. Examples of these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and lupus. You may have these conditions for quite some time before getting vasculitis.
Vasculitis is also associated with certain blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma.
Vasculitis may affect anyone regardless of age, gender and race. Some forms of vasculitis may occur more frequently in people who smoke, have a weakened autoimmune system due to a condition or have medical issues like a chronic hepatitis B or C infection (x).
Treatment of Vasculitis
Treatment for vasculitis is based on the severity of the disease, organs affected and the type of vasculitis. Vasculitis treatment mainly aims to bring down inflammation in affected blood vessels and is based on the underlying cause (x).
Prescription medicines are used to treat persons with severe vasculitis. Those with mild vasculitis can find relief with non-prescription medications, including aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen.
Takayasu Arteritis Treatment
Takayasu arteritis is treated with corticosteroids. But if corticosteroids alone don’t improve symptoms well enough, other immune suppressing drugs may be recommended.
Narrowed arteritis will need to be fixed with angioplasty (insertion of balloon-tipped catheter to make the vessels wider) or surgery.
Kawasaki Disease Treatment
Kawasaki disease is treated with aspirin, as well as a drug known as gamma globulin, given in large doses into a vein (intravenously) to lower the risk of damage to coronary arteries.
Polyarteritis Nodosa Treatment
Polyarteritis nodosa is normally treated with prednisone (available in various brand names) and, most often, cyclophosphamide (Neosar, Cytoxan).
Other immunosuppressive medicines, such as rituximab (Rituxan), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), azathioprine (Imuran) or mycophenolate (Cellcept) may be recommended as well.
Wegener Granulomatosis Treatment
Wegener granulomatosis is usually treated with prednisone along with rituximab or cyclophosphamide. Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, etc.) or other immune-suppressing drugs may be taken when initial treatments don’t work or for maintenance therapy.
Giant Cell Arteritis Treatment
Giant cell arteritis treatment starts with large prednisone doses, which are gradually decreased over several months. If symptoms recur, a smaller dose may be required for at least one year. Additional medicines, like methotrexate, may be necessary, though their overall usefulness is unclear.
Hypersensitivity Vasculitis Treatment
Hypersensitivity vasculitis disappears on its own without treatment. Corticosteroids may be prescribed for severe cases.
Other Forms of Vasculitis and Treatments
There are many other forms of vasculitis. Based on the type and severity of vasculitis, other immunosuppressants can be recommended, including methotrexate or azathioprine (Imuran).
In some cases, a plasma exchange may be necessary. In this procedure, blood is removed from the patient along with plasma (liquid part of blood). Then plasma along with blood cells from a donor is returned to the patient.
Supplements for Vasculitis
The supplements below may help strengthen your immune system and lower the risk of vasculitis complications.
Calcium can help promote bone health in people who are physically active, like athletes, manual workers and military personnel.
In one study of 243 soldiers, calcium taken with vitamin D improved bone strength and density (x). In another study involving 32 athletes, calcium was able to decrease the usual bone loss associated with extended high-intensity workout (x).
You should take 1,000 mg of calcium once or twice daily with meals.
Ask your physician about the right daily serving of vitamin D3 for you.
In cell-based and animal studies, aged extract of garlic stimulates immune cells (white blood cells) by increasing glutathione. White blood cells protect against illnesses, while glutathione helps protect white blood cells from free radical damage (x, x).
Garlic extract also helps improve memory. It increases brain serotonin, which improves cognitive performance. According to a couple of studies, garlic oil improves cognitive performance and memory function in rates by improving neuronal growth (x, x).
The recommended dose of garlic extract is 650 mg, taken twice with a meal.
Curcumin stimulates the bladder to help release bile (x). The bioavailable form of curcumin helps treats stomach ulcers by disrupting the secretion of stomach acid and inhibiting the effect of pepsin (x, x).
Curcumin can also help with joint problems. It can restore cartilage and patients preferred it to anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs (x).
Take up to 1,000 mg of curcumin daily, along with a meal or water.
In many cell studies, echinacea has shown antiviral activity against rhinoviruses, herpes simplex virus, avian, swine and human influenza virus. But it’s ineffective against viruses that have gotten into the cell (x, x).
Take echinacea in one or two doses of 450 mg.
An herbal preparation with ashwagandha taken with pharmaceutical tuberculosis medicine reduced fever, coughing and bloody coughing. It also improved body weight and breathing in a study involving 133 participants. Another study with 99 subjects found similar results (x, x).
The optimal dose for ashwagandha is 450 mg. Take it 1-3 times a day.
The Bottom Line
Vasculitis refers to the condition of inflamed blood vessels. Your immune system controls inflammation, although vasculitis is a cluster of various diseases. The forms of vasculitis vary in the organs they affect and whom they affect. Some types are mild while others are quite severe.
Vasculitis develops when your immune system mistakenly attacks your blood vessels. Why this happens is still a mystery. Sometimes an autoimmune condition triggers vasculitis.
Symptoms of vasculitis differ. They may include joint pain, nasal congestion, hearing loss, mouth ulcers, headache, skin lesions, numbness, weakness, vision problems, shortness of breath, cough, fever and weight loss.