Understanding Vasculitis

Posted on: 20 April 2017

Vasculitis is a serious condition that occurs when your body's immune system starts attacking your arteries. This causes inflammation and scarring along the walls of the affected arteries, which leads to a decrease in blood flow through your arteries. Sufferers tend to experience periods when their symptoms flare up and periods of remission, but the damage done during a flare-up does not resolve during remission. Here's what you need to know about vasculitis:

Causes And Symptoms

Vasculitis is one of a group of illnesses referred to as autoimmune diseases. It's not yet understood why people develop these types of illnesses, but the current thinking is that some people are susceptible to autoimmune diseases due to genetic factors or a susceptibility to environmental triggers, such as long-term exposure to bacteria or medication that your immune system reacts poorly to and becomes overactive.

Vasculitis isn't restricted to one area of the body, so any organ can be affected, and the symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Most sufferers experience fatigue, and other common symptoms include headaches, skin rashes around the affected areas and numbness in the hands or feet, which can come and go.

Diagnosis And Treatment

When you visit your GP with symptoms associated with vasculitis, they will refer you to a vascular surgeon for further assessment. Blood tests are used to determine if inflammation is present anywhere in your body, and a biopsy from an area showing signs of vasculitis, such as a skin rash, can be examined under a microscope to assess the health of the blood vessels. Diagnostic imaging, such as MRI and X-rays, are also used to identify sections of narrowed arteries.

As vasculitis is a chronic condition, sufferers usually require lifelong treatment to remain healthy. Steroids are used to reduce inflammation, and immunosuppressants are prescribed to dampen down your body's immune response and prevent further damage to your arteries. If diagnostic imaging shows you have severely narrowed arteries, angioplasty can be used to widen the affected arteries. This procedure involves having a small, flexible tube inserted into an artery, and a balloon on the end of the tube is then inflated until it puts pressure on the artery wall and stretches the narrowed section of scar tissue. Complete obstruction requires bypass surgery, which involves creating a loop around the blocked artery using healthy tissue from surrounding arteries.

If you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or if you have concerns about your vascular health, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

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