Vasculitis: Symptoms and Causes| Tampa General Hospital


Vasculitis, which is characterized by the inflammation of a blood vessel, can lead to serious complications.  

Vasculitis occurs when a blood vessel (an artery or a vein) becomes inflamed. In some cases, vasculitis can cause the walls of the affected blood vessel to thicken, which in turn can cause the passageway to narrow so much that it becomes completely blocked (this is known as an occlusion). Vasculitis may also cause a blood clot to form within the affected blood vessel.  
When either of these situations occurs, the resulting lack of blood flow through the artery or vein can prevent the organs and tissues on the other end of the blood vessel from receiving the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive. Less commonly, the affected blood vessel will weaken and stretch, which can increase the chances of developing an aneurysm or a rupture. 

Causes of Vasculitis 

Scientists within the medical community are still working to determine what causes vasculitis. However, studies suggest that the immune system may play a role—in many cases, vasculitis appears to develop after some type of trigger causes an allergic reaction within the walls of the affected blood vessel. Vasculitis may also be caused by genetics. 

Symptoms of Vasculitis

Vasculitis commonly causes the following symptoms:

  • Fever 
  • Fatigue 
  • Headache 
  • Pain and achiness 
  • Unexplained weight loss 

Additional symptoms will vary depending on the location of the affected blood vessel. For example, if a blood vessel in the lungs becomes inflamed, it may cause shortness of breath. But if the inflammation is occurring in a blood vessel in the stomach or the intestines, it could cause pain after eating. 

Diagnosing Vasculitis 

If a physician suspects that a patient might have vasculitis, he or she will likely order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis: 

  • Angiogram 
  • Biopsy 
  • Blood test 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan 
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Ultrasound 
  • X-ray 

Treatment for Vasculitis 

When determining how to treat vasculitis, the vascular specialists at Tampa General Hospital will take several factors into account, including the type of vasculitis present and the location of the affected blood vessel. In some cases, vasculitis will improve on its own. Many patients who require treatment benefit from taking corticosteroids, but in more severe cases, immunosuppressant medication or surgery may be necessary.