What is vasculitis?
Vasculitis is a condition where there is inflammation of the blood vessels. It can affect any type of blood vessels (the veins, arteries, and capillaries). This usually occurs because the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the blood vessels. It is more common in people with autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. While the reason for this is often unknown, it can be caused by an infection, medicines, and diseases.
When the immune system attacks the blood vessels, the inflammation results in the walls of blood vessels weakening and stretching. This will eventually cause swelling and scarring in these blood vessels. It is dangerous as it can narrow the blood vessels reducing the blood flow and may even completely stop the flow of blood. Reduced blood flow is a serious issue as it can cause permanent organ and tissue damage, e.g. in the brain, spine, central nervous system (CNS), and peripheral nervous system (PNS). Bulges in the blood vessels may also be created, these are known as aneurysms. If these bulges blood vessels burst, there will be dangerous bleeding into surrounding tissues. Inflammations in the brain can lead to stroke-like symptoms and even death.
How will having vasculitis affect me?
Like any other chronic condition, vasculitis can lead to feelings of fear and sadness and may even cause anxiety and depression. Another challenge that can come up is balancing long-term treatments with its associated complications. For example, certain types of drugs used to limit inflammation have side effects of increasing your risk for osteoporosis, weight gain, diabetes, muscle weakness, and infection. It is important to go through any challenges you are facing with your physician who can and will help you in finding the best way to cope.
It is normal to feel sad or anxious after being diagnosed with a chronic condition, but if you are feeling this way for more than a few weeks and it is affecting your work and relationships you might have a mental health condition and may want to seek professional help.
What does having vasculitis feel like?
The main symptoms of vasculitis is fever, headaches (especially persistent ones), swelling and malaise (generally just not feeling well). Other symptoms also include but are not limited to:
- Weight loss
- Aches and pains
- Skin discoloration
- Numbness or paralysation
- Double vision and temporary blindness
- Strokes/ TIA (transient ischemic attack)
How is vasculitis diagnosed?
To diagnose vasculitis, your doctor will review your medical history, do a clinical examination and conduct certain tests to further analyse if you have vasculitis. This is because the symptoms of vasculitis can be similar to other diseases. Your doctor may carry out blood and urine tests. These tests look for high levels of inflammation that can be indicated by high levels of some proteins. They may also carry out analysis of fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord. Additionally, imaging tests can be used to detect signs of inflammation in your blood vessels. The imaging test used may include x-ray scans, MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasound scans, CT scans (computerized tomography), and other tests.
How is vasculitis treated?
Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment is essential for this condition. Treatment for vasculitis mainly focuses on controlling and reducing the inflammation of the blood vessels as well as preventing the underlying triggers/causes of the inflammation. In most cases, long-term treatment for vasculitis is needed. Treatment is also dependent on the organs most affected by the vasculitis. Drugs used to suppress the immune system are used (immunosuppressants). If there are aneurysm cases related to vasculitis, these cases may then be treated through surgical means.
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