Vasculitis

Vasculitis means "inflammation of the blood vessels". Vasculitis can range from a minor problem that just affects the skin, to a more serious illness that causes problems with organs such as the heart or kidneys. There are many types of vasculitis (see below).

About vasculitis

Inflammation is your immune system's natural response to injury or infection. It causes swelling and can help the body deal with invading germs.

But in vasculitis, for some reason the immune system attacks healthy blood vessels, causing them to become swollen and narrow. This may be triggered by an infection or medication, although often the cause is unknown.

Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Churg-Strauss syndrome)

Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis, also called Churg-Strauss syndrome, is a type of vasculitis that mainly affects adults aged 30 to 45.

It can cause:

It can also affect the nerves, causing weakness, pins and needles or numbness, and it sometimes damages the kidneys or heart muscle. It's usually treated with steroid medication.

Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)

Giant cell arteritis is a type of vasculitis that often affects the arteries in the head and neck. It mostly occurs in adults over the age of 50.

It's sometimes called temporal arteritis because the arteries around the temples are often affected.

It can cause:

  • aching and soreness around the temples
  • jaw muscle pain while eating
  • headaches
  • double vision or vision loss

It also commonly occurs alongside polymyalgia rheumatica (see below). The main treatment is steroid medication

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's granulomatosis)

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's granulomatosis) is a type of vasculitis that mainly affects blood vessels in the:

  • nose
  • sinuses
  • ears
  • lungs
  • kidneys

It mainly affects middle-aged or elderly people.

It can cause:

It's a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated, as it can lead to organ failure. It's usually treated with steroid medication or other medicines that reduce the activity of the immune system.

Henoch-Schönlein purpura

Henoch-Schönlein purpura is a rare type of vasculitis that usually occurs in children and can affect the skin, kidneys or bowel. It's thought to be triggered by the body reacting to an infection.

It can cause:

It's not usually serious and tends to get better without treatment.

Kawasaki disease

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that can occur in children under five. The trigger is thought to be an infection, although the exact cause is not fully understood.

It can cause:

  • a high temperature (fever) that lasts for more than five days
  • a rash
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • red fingers or toes, red eyes, and redness of the lips, tongue or mouth

Kawasaki disease can affect the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, so some children experience heart problems.

It usually needs to be treated in hospital with aspirin and a treatment called immunoglobulin.

Microscopic polyangiitis

Microscopic polyangiitis is a rare and potentially serious long-term type of vasculitis that most often develops in middle-aged people.

It can affect any organ but particularly affects the lungs, kidneys and nerves.

It can cause:

It's usually treated with steroid medication or other medicines that reduce the activity of the immune system.

Polyarteritis nodosa

Polyarteritis nodosa is a rare type of vasculitis that particularly affects the arteries supplying the gut, kidneys and nerves. It tends to develop in childhood or in middle-aged people.

It can sometimes be triggered by an infection, such as hepatitis B, but the exact cause is uncertain.

It can cause:

It can be very serious if not treated. The main treatment is steroid medication, and sometimes other medicines that reduce the activity of the immune system.

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a type of vasculitis that's closely related to giant cell arteritis (see above). It mostly occurs in adults over 50 and is more common in women than men.

It can cause:

  • pain and stiffness in the shoulders, neck and hips, which is often worse after waking up
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • extreme tiredness
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • depression

The main treatment is steroid medication, which is usually used in lower doses than for giant cell arteritis. 

Takayasu arteritis

Takayasu arteritis is a type of vasculitis that mainly affects young women. It's very rare in the UK. It affects the main artery from the heart, as well as the major arteries branching off it.

It can cause:

Treatment is usually with steroid medication.

The Vasculitis UK website has more information about Takayasu arteritis.

Other types of vasculitis

Other types of vasculitis include:

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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