One of the more complex conditions private rheumatology consultants see is vasculitis. Doctors are hesitant to call vasculitis a disease in and of itself. Rather, it is generally a condition caused by something else. The key to treating it is figuring out what that underlying cause is.
If you are familiar with medical terms, you might know that the ‘itis’ suffix refers to inflammation. Therefore, vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. We understand inflammation as an immune system response in the event of injury, illness, or disease. But in patients with vasculitis, the immune system attacks otherwise healthy blood vessels.
A Range of Vasculitis Diseases
There are times when the cause of vasculitis is unknown. In such cases, private rheumatology consultants must do their best to treat symptoms. But in other cases, underlying conditions are revealed through medical exam. Once identified, they can be treated.
Medical science recognises a range of vasculitis diseases (diseases for which vasculitis is a symptom). Here is a partial list:
- Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Churg-Strauss syndrome)
- Giant cell arteritis / temporal arteritis
- Buerger’s disease
- Kawasaki disease
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Wegener’s granulomatosis.
Again, this is just a partial list. There are many other vasculitis diseases we know of. The common component in every case is inflammation of the blood vessels. Interestingly, vasculitis tends to attack only a single size of blood vessel. For example, Wegener’s granulomatosis vasculitis is considered small vessel because it only attacks the capillaries – the smallest blood vessels in the body.
Vasculitis symptoms vary depending on the affected blood vessels. When the respiratory system is involved, patients might experience wheezing, a dry cough, and periods of breathlessness. When the skin is involved, rashes and ulcers are fairly common.
Vasculitis can induce pain in the joints, weakness and loss of sensation, and feelings of pins and needles. Vasculitis in the eyes can cause pain, dry eyes, and physical changes in vision.
It is difficult to pinpoint a single set of symptoms due to the broad nature of vasculitis. Just know that if you suffer from any form of the condition, we can identify it based on the symptoms you describe and what we observe during examination and testing.
Rheumatologists generally treat vasculitis by way of a two-stage therapeutic plan. The first stage is known as remission induction therapy. The goal here is to cause the vasculitis to go into remission. Immunosuppression medications do the job. A combination of drugs – usually steroids – are utilised. In some cases, biologics may be introduced as a supplement to the steroids.
Once remission has been achieved, phase 2 begins. This is known as remission maintenance therapy. Again, we maintain remission through the use of targeted medications. Some patients require maintenance therapy for many years; others can discontinue after a year or two.
Vasculitis is a complex condition that may be linked to an underlying cause. It might also be the result of an unknown cause. In either case, it is important to seek treatment as soon as you can. Untreated vasculitis can lead to more serious complications that, in some cases, could be life-threatening.
If you have any reason to believe you may be exhibiting symptoms of vasculitis, please do not hesitate to visit my London rheumatology office. I am here to help you get things under control. If an examination determines the presence of vasculitis, we can come up with a treatment plan to send the disease into remission, then maintain thereafter.