Vasculitis: Symptoms & Types

The signs and symptoms of vasculitis can vary, but the following are some common ones:

■ Fever
■ Joint and muscle pain
■ Fatigue
■ Weakness or numbness
■ Loss of appetite
■ Weight loss

A good rule of thumb is that you should see your health-care professional when one or more of these symptoms begins to worry you.

Aside from these general vasculitis symptoms, different kinds of vasculitis have their own distinct characteristics. Here are a few of the better-known forms.

Behçet disease. Behçet disease is a form of vasculitis known for causing sores in the mouth and on the genitals. It can also cause skin lesions, joint pain, and inflammation of the eye.

Giant cell arteritis. Giant cell arteritis tends to affect the arteries in a person’s head, particularly at the temples. As a result, it can cause jaw pain, headaches, and impaired vision. Sometimes giant cell arteritis can even cause a person to become suddenly and permanently blind in one eye. Another inflammatory condition called polymyalgia rheumatica is often closely associated with giant cell arteritis and is generally characterized by muscle pain in the neck, hips, and shoulders.

Buerger disease. Buerger disease is relatively rare in the United States and is linked to tobacco use. It can block blood flow to the hands and feet in such a way that they may eventually require amputation.

Polyarteritis nodosa. Polyarteritis nodosa can affect the skin, kidneys, heart, and nervous system and can cause fever, fatigue, weakness, and weight loss. Rarely, polyarteritis nodosa can cause kidney failure and stroke. The onset of polyarteritis nodosa may come as a result of infection with hepatitis B or C.

Churg-Strauss syndrome. Churg-Strauss syndrome is a kind of vasculitis associated with asthma. The asthma may begin years before other symptoms, however, which may include nasal polyps and symptoms similar to those of hay fever. As the vasculitis sets in, a person may notice tingling; numbness; shooting pains; rashes; muscle loss in the hands and feet; high blood pressure; and kidney inflammation, which can lead to pink, brown, or foamy urine.

Henoch-Schönlein purpura. Henoch-Schönlein purpura affects the body’s smallest blood vessels (called capillaries) and often causes red-purple rashes on the legs and buttocks as well as joint pain and stomach pain.

Allergic vasculitis. Allergic vasculitis, sometimes called hypersensitivity vasculitis, usually comes as an allergic reaction and can result from a drug you are taking or exposure to a toxin. Symptoms may include hives, blisters, purple spots or patches, and open sores with dead tissue.

Other forms. Other forms of vasculitis include microscopic polyangiitis, granulomatosis with polyangiitis (sometimes called Wegener granulomatosis), Takayasu arteritis, and Kawasaki disease.

Kurt Ullman has been a medical writer for 30 years. He is based in Indiana.

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