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Vasculitis

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Types and Symptoms of Vasculitis

Because vasculitis is a systemic illness, symptoms can be non-specific and include those typical of inflammation, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Body aches

These symptoms may appear rapidly or may develop gradually over the course of several months. The presentation of symptoms can vary considerably from person to person. In addition to these diffuse symptoms, someone can have organ-specific, localized symptoms associated with the particular type of vasculitis they have. The size and specific blood vessels that are affected often lead to a characteristic set of symptoms for each type. The table below provides examples of some types of vasculitis.

Name Blood Vessels Affected Description and Symptoms
Behçet's Disease Large, medium, and small Characterized by painful mouth and genital sores and eye inflammation but can affect other organs and tissues as well, including the skin, lungs, and joints; tends to affect men more than women
Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA) Large Also called temporal arteritis because it involves inflammation of the temporal arteries along the sides of the head near the temples; associated with headaches, scalp tenderness, jaw pain, and blurred vision; most common type of vasculitis; most often affects women and people over age 50
Polymyalgia Rheumatica Large Occurs in half of those with GCA (above); characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulders and hips; found mostly in those over age 50
Takayasu's Arteritis Large, medium Affects the largest blood vessel in the body – the aorta – and its branches; most cases occur in young women, especially Asian women, and it can start in childhood; general symptoms of malaise, fatigue, fever, arm weakness, joint pain, headaches, and loss of appetite
Buerger's Disease Medium Characterized by reduced blood flow to the hands and feet, resulting in numbness and tingling, and can lead to gangrene; associated with cigarette smoking
Central Nervous System Vasculitis Medium Very rare type of vasculitis in which involvement is confined to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord); symptoms include headache, changes in mental function, and muscle weakness or paralysis
Kawasaki Disease Mostly medium, but can affect any blood vessel Rare form of vasculitis that affects children, especially those under age 5, and causes a fever that does not respond to medication and redness of the mucous membranes (eyes, mouth) and skin rash as well as enlarged lymph nodes
Polyarteritis Nodosa Medium Affects the skin, heart, kidneys, and central nervous system; associated with fever, weight loss, muscle and joint pain as well as anemia
Churg-Strauss Syndrome Small Characterized by inflammation of the nose, asthma, and skin and lung involvement, but can also affect other organ systems; very high number of eosinophils (type of white blood cell) may be found in blood and tissues; associated with granulomas (lumps due to tissue inflammation)
Henoch-Schönlein Purpura Small Most common type of vasculitis in children; usually follows an upper respiratory tract infection and characterized by inflammation of blood vessels in the skin, causing purplish spots or patches (purpura) that may present on the arms and legs; also associated with abdominal pain and blood in the urine; usually resolves on its own within a few weeks
Essential Mixed Cryoglobulinemia Small Often associated with chronic hepatitis C infection and occurs as an immune response to that infection; characterized by purpura usually on the lower extremities but also can cause joint pain, weakness, limb tingling/numbness, and kidney inflammation
Microscopic Polyangiitis Small, medium Affects vessels in various organs, including the kidneys, lungs, nervous system, and skin; general symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and weight loss while organ-specific symptoms can include coughing up blood
Wegener's Granulomatosis Small Rare form of vasculitis that can involve the upper respiratory tract, lungs, kidneys, and other organs; granulomas can occur such as in the lungs and cause damage; general symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and weight loss while more specific symptoms can include shortness of breath and chronic sinusitis and ear infections

For more information on each of these conditions, see the web sites of the Vasculitis Foundation and the Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. For more information on symptoms by type of vasculitis, see the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Types of Vasculitis.

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