Reviewed by Isabelle Amigues, MD, MS, RhMSUS
Vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessels including arteries, veins and capillaries. Inflammation can damage blood vessel walls causing them to thicken, weaken, bulge, narrow or scar.

In some cases, an impacted blood vessel can rupture or close completely, called an occlusion. Damaged vessels cannot deliver blood effectively, which restricts the flow of oxygen and vital nutrients to your tissue and organs. If blood flow is restricted enough, tissue and organs can become damaged or die.

Vasculitis is a rare condition that can affect people of any age, race or gender. Certain types of vasculitis are more prevalent in specific groups of people, as is the case with giant cell arteritis, a type of vasculitis that only affects older (>50) adults. The cause of vasculitis is not entirely clear, but genetics, infection and the body’s immune system seem to play a role. Diseases like cancer and certain types of medication may cause vasculitis. Smoking and having a chronic infection increase your risk.

Vasculitis can be treated quickly, or it can be chronic, which means it may last for several years or a lifetime. If diagnosed and treated properly, people with vasculitis often live normal, healthy lives. If not treated quickly, affected organs can become damaged resulting in long-term complications. Diagnosing vasculitis usually involves a biopsy so tissue samples can be analyzed for signs of inflammation and underlying disease. Treatment often requires medication. In rare cases, surgery may be needed to repair damaged vessels or organs.

Depending on where vasculitis is located, more than one organ may be impacted. Organs commonly affected by vasculitis include the heart, liver, kidneys, skin, and eyes. If numerous organs are affected, the condition is called systemic vasculitis.

 

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