Vasculitis is a collection of diseases involving inflammation of the blood vessels. It's not just a problem of golfers or hikers or people who take long walks on hot days, although it is most commonly associated with those activities. It can accompany any of a number of relatively rare diseases of the circulatory system including:
- Behçet's disease,
- Churg-Strauss syndrome,
- Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis), Henoch-Schönlein purpura.
- Kawasaki disease,
- Polyarteritis nodosa,
- Takayasu's arteritis, and
- Wegener's granulomatosis.
It's more commonly a complication of rheumatoid arthritis or caused by exposure to a drug or chemical that has a stimulant effect, such as amphetamine. Multiple myeloma and hepatitis B also trigger the disease. Vasculitis is more common after upper respiratory infections and infections with strep or tuberculosis. It's three to four times more common during the first year after getting the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot
Vasculitis can occur at any age, although some forms are more common in children and others are more common in older adults. Different forms of the disease are more common in different ethnic groups. Some forms are more common in males, others in females.
When vasculitis affects the skin, there can be rashes or skin ulcers. However, vasculitis can also affect other organs. In the muscles, it causes muscle pain. Vasculitis in the lungs causes cough and shortness of breath. When the condition affects the heart, it may cause congestive heart failure; when it affects the brain, it can cause seizures, memory loss, or confusion. Vasculitis can lead to kidney failure. Vasculitis anywhere in the body leads to fatigue and sometimes weight loss.
Medical treatment of vasculitis focuses on stopping inflammation. The most common medication for that purpose is Prednisone, a steroid hormone. Drugs normally used in cancer treatment such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may be used to inhibit the immune system from making inflammatory compounds. The inevitable side effect is that the immune system will also be inhibited from fighting disease.
Different people experience different symptoms of vasculitis. One person may break out in purple blotches that look like bruises but be unable to remember a bump or a blow that caused them. Another might find she has to prop up her arm to brush her teeth. Someone else might have severe muscle pain in the buttocks and legs and night sweats. Another might have blisters on the legs and a cough without getting a cold. Yet another might have rashes on the hands and feet that just never go away.
Vasculitis is hard to diagnose, and can't be cured. There are some things you can do to make it easier to live with.
- Vasculitis isn't something you can treat on your own. You will need to see your doctor regularly (about once a month in most cases).
- Sometimes vasculitis has the same kinds of triggers as hives. You may have fewer symptoms if you avoid Aspirin (Tylenol in moderation may be OK) and Aspirin-like substances in food including salicylates in red wine, dried fruit, and red and yellow food coloring.
- Nickel-plated jewelry (and piercings) can cause severe skin irritation in some people who have vasculitis.
- If your doctor puts you on Prednisone, you will need to limit the amount of salt in your food to avoid swelling, weight gain, and high blood pressure. You will also have bone health issues. You need calcium and vitamin D, but not in megadoses, and vitamin K2 to help your bones absorb the calcium without calcium going into cholesterol plaques in your arteries.
- Some kinds of vasulitis cause severe constipation that is relieved every 10 days or so by severe diarrhea. The best way to cope with this is to avoid heavy meals, make sure you get soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables every day, and to avoid dehydration by drinking at least six cups (1500 ml) of water every day.
- Horse chestnut extract (the herb) may help with leg pains and skin ulcers. It's not a cure-all, but it is usually helpful for this form of vasculitis. Never use home-harvested horse chestnuts. Always use the extract.
- There are vasculitis support groups on Facebook and in patient forums.
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