Vasculitis (plural: vasculitides), a group of diseases featuring inflammation of the wall of blood vessels including veins (phlebitis), arteries (arteritis) and capillaries due to leukocyte migration and resultant damage. While most vasculitides are rare, they generally affect several organ systems and can cause severe disability.
bruit over one or both carotid arteries or abdominal aorta
arteriographic narrowing of aorta, its primary branches, or large arteries in upper or lower extremities
Giant cell (temporal) arteritis. Chronic vasculitis of both large and medium vessels, primarily affecting cranial branches of the arteries arising from the aortic arch. At least 3 out of 5 criteria yields sensitivity and specificity of 95 and 91%:
Age at onset ≥ 50 years
New onset headache with localized tenderness
Temporal artery tenderness or decreased pulsation
Elevated ESR ≥ 50 mm/hour Westergren
Temporal artery biopsy showing vasculitis with mononuclear cell infiltrate or granulomatous inflammation, usually with multinucleated giant cells
Medium vessel vasculitis
Polyarteritis nodosa. Systemic necrotizing vasculitis and aneurysm formation affecting both medium and small arteries. If only small vessels are affected, it is called microscopic polyangiitis, although it is more associated with Wegener's granulomatosis than to classic PAN. At least 3 out of 10 criteria yields sensitivity and specificity of 82 and 87%:
elevated serum BUN (> 40 mg/dL) or serum creatinine (> 1.5 mg/dL)
hepatitis B infection
arterial biopsy showing polymorphonuclear cells
Wegener's granulomatosis. Systemic vasculitis of medium and small arteries, including venules and arterioles. Produces granulomatous inflammation of the respiratory tracts and necrotizing, pauci-immune glomerulonephritis. Most common cause of saddle nose deformity in USA (nose flattened due to destruction of nasal septum by granulomatous inflammation). Almost all patients with WG has c-ANCA, but not vice versa. Current treatment of choice is cyclophosphamide. At least 2 out of 4 criteria yields sensitivity and specificity of 88 and 92%.
nasal or oral inflammation (oral ulcers or purulent/bloody nasal discharge, may be painful)
Kawasaki disease. Usually in children, it affects large, medium, and small vessels, prominently the coronary arteries. Associated with a mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome. Diagnosis requires fever lasting five days or more with at least 4 out of 5 criteria:
bilateral conjunctival injection
injected or fissured lips, injected pharynx, or strawberry tongue
erythema of palms/soles, edema of hands/feet, periungual desquamation
cervical lymphadenopathy (at least one node > 1.5 cm)
Isolated CNS vasculitis. Affects medium and small arteries over a diffuse CNS area, without symptomatic extracranial vessel involvement. Patients have CNS symptoms as well as cerebral vasculitis by angiography and leptomeningeal biopsy.
Small vessel vasculitis
There are several vasculitides that affect small vessels.
Churg-Strauss arteritis. Affects medium and small vessels with vascular and extravascular granulomatosis. Classically involves arteries of lungs and skin, but may be generalized. At least 4 criteria yields sensitivity and specificity of 85 and 99.7%.
asthma (history of wheezeing or presently wheezing)
eosinophilia > 10% on CBC
mononeuropathy or polyneuropathy
migratory or transient pulmonary opacities on CXR
paranasal sinus abnormalities
vessel biopsy showing eosinophils in extravascular areas
Microscopic polyarteritis/polyangiitis. Affects capillaries, venules, or arterioles. Thought to be part of a group that includes Wegeners since both are associated with ANCA and similar extrapulmonary manifestations. Patients do not usually have symptomatic or histologic respiratory involvement.
Hypersensitivity vasculitis. Usually due to a hypersensitivity reaction to a known drug. There is presence of skin vaculitis with palpable petechiae or purpura. Biopsy of these lesions reveal inflammation of the small vessels, termed leukocytoclastic vasculitis, which is most prominent in postcapillary venules. At least 3 out of 5 criteria yields sensitivity and specificity of 71 and 84%:
age > 16
use of possible triggering drug in relation to symptoms
skin biopsy showing neutrophils around vessel
Henoch-Schonlein purpura. Systemic vasculitis due to tissue deposition of IgA-containing immune complexes. Biopsy of lesions shows inflammation of small vessels. It is considered a form of hypersensitivity vasculitis but is distinguished by prominent deposits of IgA. This is the most common vasculitis in children. Presence of 3 or more criteria yielded sensitivity of 87% while less than 2 criteria yielded hypersensitivity vasculitis in 74%:
palpable purpura (usually of buttocks & legs)
onset < 20 years
no new medications
Essential cryoglobulinemic vasculitis. Most often due to hepatitic C infection, immune complexes of cryoglobulins --- proteins that consists of immunoglobulins and complement and precipitate in the cold while dissolving upon rewarming --- are deposited in walls of capillaries, venules, or arterioles. Therefore, complement will be low with histology showing vessel inflammation with immune deposits.
Vasculitis secondary to viral infection. Usually due to hepatitis B and C, HIV, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and Parvo B19 virus.
Symptoms and signs
Patients usually present with systemic symptoms with single or multiorgan dysfunction. Common (and nonspecific) complaints include fatigue, weakness, fever, arthralgias, abdominal pain, hypertension, renal insufficiency, and neurologic dysfunction. The following symptoms should raise a strong suspicion of a vasculitis:
Mononeuritis multiplex. Also known as asymmetric polyneuropathy is highly suggestive of vasculitis, since diabetes is the only other cause of this.
Palpable purpura. If patients have this in isolation, it is most likely due to cutaneous leukocytoclastic vasculitis. If the purpura is in combination with systemic organ involvement, it is most likely to be Henoch-Schonlein purpura or microscopic polyarteritis.
A detailed history is important to elicit any recent medications, any risk of hepatitis infection, or any recent diagnosis with a connective tissue disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). A thorough physical exam is needed as usual.
Lab tests. Basic lab tests may include a CBC, chem-7 (look for creatinine), muscle enzyme, liver function tests, ESR, hepatitis seroloties, urinalysis, CXR, and EKG. Additional, more specific tests include:
Antinuclear antibody (ANA) test can detect an underlying connective tissue disorder, especially SLE
Complement levels that are low can suggest mixed cryoglobulinemia, hepatitis C infection, and SLE, but not most other vasculitides.
Electromyography. It is useful if a systemic vasculitis is suspected and neuromuscular symptoms are present.
Arteriography. Arteriograms are helpful in vasculitis affecting the large and medium vessels but not helpful in small vessel vasculitis. Angiograms of mesenteri or renal arteries in polyarteritis nodosa may show aneurysms, occlusions, and vascular wall abnormalities. Arteriography are not diagnostic in itself if other accessible areas for biopsy are present. However, in Takayasu's arteritis, where the aorta may be involved, it is unlikely a biopsy will be successful and angiography can be diagnostic.
Tissue biopsy. This is the gold standard of diagnosis when biopsy is taken from the most involved area.
Treatment is targeted to the underlying cause. However, most vasculitis in general are treated with steroids (e.g. methylprednisolone) because the underlying cause of the vasculitis is due to hyperactive immunological damage. Immunosuppressants such as cyclophosphamide and azathioprine may also be given.