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Vasculitis (also called angiitis or arteritis) is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks the blood vessels by mistake, creating inflammation. Blood vessels become narrowed or blocked, cutting off blood supply, potentially causing serious consequences.

Vasculitis can affect any body system and can have a wide range of symptoms. For most types, symptoms can include the following:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Aches and pains

Vasculitis: what you should know

There are more than a dozen different types of vasculitis, each with specific symptoms. Some are chronic while others have symptoms that come and go. The types include the following:

It is unknown what causes many types of vasculitis. These types are called primary vasculitis. Secondary vasculitis is any type that is caused by another disease, including the following:

  • Blood cell cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
  • An allergic reaction to a medication (this causes allergic vasculitis)
  • An infection, such as  the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus
  • Other autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma

How can I get help for vasculitis?

Diagnosis.  Diagnosis can be tricky since symptoms can emerge over time. Experts in the Division of Rheumatology aim to make an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible.

Diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Blood tests, including tests looking for anemia, a complication of vasculitis
  • Biopsy to look for signs of inflammation or tissue damage
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) to determine heart damage
  • Lung function tests to look for restricted airflow
  • Angiography to check your blood flow 

Care for vasculitis at Rush

Vasculitis is treatable, but it is not curable. Your prognosis depends on various factors:

  • The type of vasculitis you have
  • Which of your organs are affected
  • The severity of your symptoms
  • How quickly your condition worsens

Rheumatologists provide personalized care for your specific type and symptoms of vasculitis. Left untreated, all forms of vasculitis have serious consequences; however, if treated early, many people with vasculitis have a good prognosis. Because vasculitis can attack any body system, other specialists at Rush may be consulted.

 Your treatment at Rush might include the following:

  • Medications. Your team will offer the latest medications to stop inflammation and pain. For some types of vascultitis, medications to control your immune system also are needed.
  • Surgery. Occasionally, vasculitis creates an abnormal bulge in a blood vessel wall, called an aneurysm. Often, surgery is necessary to remove the aneurysm so it does not rupture or develop a blood clot, which are life threatening conditions.

Preventing flare-ups: At Rush, you are encouraged to learn about vasculitis and take care of yourself to avoid flares, episodes when a trigger causes symptoms to suddenly appear or worsen.

  • Avoid serious infections by getting a pneumonia vaccine and taking the injectable form of the flu shot
  • Watch for medication side effects, like weight gain or weakness
  • Exercise, which is especially helpful in reducing stress, a common trigger of vasculitis flares
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Stop smoking, especially if you have Buerger’s disease
  • See your doctor regularly to monitor symptoms

Why choose Rush for vasculitis care

  • Rheumatologists at Rush conduct clinical trials and use the latest therapies for vasculitis. They are also involved in research to find a cure.
  • Rush facilities include offers an onsite laboratory, infusion therapies and vaccinations. This makes your care easily coordinated and more convenient for you. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition