What Is Vasculitis?
Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels in the
body. In vasculitis, the body’s immune system mistakenly
attacks the body’s own blood vessels, causing them to become
inflamed. Inflammation can damage the blood vessels and lead
to a number of serious complications.
affect any of the body’s blood vessels. These include
arteries, veins, and capillaries. Arteries are vessels that
carry blood from the heart to the body’s organs, veins are
the vessels that carry blood back to the heart, and
capillaries are the tiny blood vessels that connect the
small arteries and veins.
When a blood vessel becomes inflamed, it can:
Narrow, making it more difficult for blood to get
- Close off completely so that blood
can’t get through at all (occlusion)
- In rare
cases, stretch and weaken so much that it bulges
(aneurysm) and may possibly burst (aneurysm rupture)
Figure A shows a normal artery with normal blood flow (the
inset image shows a cross-section of the normal artery).
Figure B shows an artery narrowed due to inflammation in the
arterial wall, causing decreased blood flow (the inset image
shows a cross-section of the inflamed artery). Figure C
shows a totally occluded (blocked) artery due to
inflammation and scarring in the arterial wall (the inset
image shows a cross-section of the block artery). Figure D
shows an artery containing an aneurysm.
disruption in blood flow from inflammation can damage the
body’s organs. Specific signs and symptoms depend on which
organ has been damaged and the extent of the damage. Typical
signs and symptoms of inflammation (fever, swelling, and a
general sense of feeling ill) are common among people with
The outlook for people
who have vasculitis varies depending on both the type and
severity of the vasculitis. The course of a case of
vasculitis can be hard to predict. Treatment is often very
effective if vasculitis is diagnosed and treated early.
Vasculitis may disappear or go into a period of remission.
In some cases, it may be a chronic problem, requiring
ongoing treatment, or it may come back (“flare”) after a
period of remission. In more severe cases, treatment may not
help, and vasculitis can lead to disability or even death.
Much is still unknown about vasculitis. There are many
different types of vasculitis, but overall it is a fairly
rare condition in the general population. Additional
research is needed to learn more about the various types of
vasculitis and their causes, treatments, and remission