The term vasculitis is a combination of two roots: vascul, which means “vessel,” and itis, which means “inflammation.” So if you have vasculitis, it means you have inflamed blood vessels. These vessels supply blood to the different organs of the body, such as the kidneys, muscles, skin, brain and lungs.
When your blood vessels become inflamed, they can either dilate or collapse, leading to loss of blood supply. This may result in organ damage and loss of function.
Untreated, vasculitis can have severe consequences. There are several different types of vasculitis.
Behçet's disease is a chronic autoimmune disorder causing canker sores in the mouth or genitals, eye inflammation and arthritis. An autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues.
In Buerger’s disease (BGD), or thromboangiitis obliterans, small blood vessels in the hands and feet become inflamed and narrowed. When this happens, blood clots can completely block the blood vessels, leading to serious consequences, like gangrene. Most patients with this progressive form of vasculitis have a history of heavy tobacco use.
Central nervous system (CNS) vasculitis
Central nervous system (CNS) vasculitis, also known as primary angiitis of the central nervous system, is vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation) that affects only the brain or spinal cord.
Churg-Strauss syndrome (CSS) is a form of vasculitis, which is an inflammation of the blood vessels. CSS is an autoimmune condition that affects the small blood vessels. CSS can cause asthma and increased eosinophils (a type of white blood cell). Churg-Strauss syndrome is also known as allergic granulomatosis.
Cryoglobulinemic vasculitis is a form of vasculitis in which abnormal proteins in the blood (known as cryoglobulins) become thick or gel-like in cold temperatures. When this happens, they can block blood vessels throughout the body. This may lead to complications ranging from skin rashes to kidney failure.
Giant cell arteritis
Giant cell arteritis (GCA) causes inflammation of major arteries in the head, neck and arms. In this form of vasculitis, the arteries narrow, preventing blood flow to vital organs. Left untreated, GCA leads to serious complications, including loss of vision and stroke.
Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) is a rare form of vasculitis that restricts blood flow. Also called Wegener’s granulomatosis, GPA produces nodules of inflamed tissue around blood vessels. Sometimes, sores develop in the respiratory tract or the kidneys, which can have serious consequences.
Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) is a type of vasculitis that causes inflammation of blood vessels in the skin, joints, intestines and kidneys. The main symptom is a purplish rash, typically on the lower legs and buttocks. Henoch-Schönlein purpura also often causes abdominal pain and aching joints, and, in some people, kidney problems.
Hypersensitivity vasculitis (HSV)
Hypersensitivity vasculitis (HSV) is a type of vasculitis in which the blood vessels of the skin become inflamed and damaged. This inflammation occurs in response to a drug, infection or foreign substance. In HSV, the joints, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, lungs, heart or central nervous system can also be affected.
Kawasaki disease (also called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome or infantile polyarteritis) is a rare childhood disease. In this form of vasculitis, any type of blood vessels can become inflamed. If Kawasaki disease (KD) affects the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart, serious heart problems may develop.
Microscopic polyangiitis is a type of vasculitis that affects the small blood vessels in the kidneys, lungs, nerves, skin and joints. Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss, among others. In many cases, medications can improve or eliminate these symptoms.
Polyarteritis nodosa (also called panarteritis nodosa and periarteritis nodosa) occurs when malfunctioning immune cells damage arteries. This damage can harm other parts of the body, including the skin, heart, kidneys and the nervous system.
Takayasu disease, also called Takayasu arteritis, is inflammation of the aorta — the artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body — and its major branches. It is thought to be an autoimmune condition, but the cause is unknown.