Vasculitis and Lupus
Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels — the tubes that carry blood throughout your body. Inflammation happens when your immune system attacks healthy tissue by mistake. When blood vessels are inflamed, the vessel walls can get thicker and prevent blood flow. This can damage organs and tissues.
People with lupus may be more likely to have vasculitis because they’re more likely to have inflammation. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about vasculitis.
Vasculitis can affect the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) to the largest blood vessels (arteries and veins). General symptoms include:
- Generally feeling unwell
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Muscle and joint pain
- Loss of appetite (not feeling hungry)
- Weight loss
Vasculitis can cause many more specific symptoms based on where in the body the inflammation is. You can learn more about how vasculitis can affect different parts or systems of the body below.
How can vasculitis affect my skin?
- Vasculitis can cause you to develop symptoms like:
- Small red or purple dots — usually on the legs
- Larger spots that look like bruises
- Itchy, lumpy rashes which can be painful or tender (hives)
- Open sores (ulcers) — especially around the ankles
- Small black spots around the toes, fingernails, or ends of the fingers
- Discolored, dead skin (gangrene) on the fingers or toes
How can vasculitis affect my joints?
You could have aching, swelling, or heat in your joints.
How can vasculitis affect my brain?
Symptoms of vasculitis in the brain range from mild to severe symptoms. They can include:
- Changes in behavior
- Seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior)
- Strokes (blocked blood flow in the brain that causes brain cells to die)
How can vasculitis affect my peripheral nerves?
Your peripheral nerves make your muscles move and tell your brain what your body is feeling. Vasculitis can cause:
- Numbness and tingling — usually in the arms, legs, fingers, or toes
- Weakness, numbness, or pain — often in the feet or hands
How can vasculitis affect my intestines?
Vasculitis can keep the intestines from getting enough blood flow. Symptoms may include:
- Stomach pain
- Vasculitis can also damage tissue that lines the intestines. If this happens, you may have pain or blood in your stool (poop).
How can vasculitis affect my heart?
It’s possible to have vasculitis in your coronary arteries (the tubes bring blood to your heart), but it’s rare. When it does happen, it can cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest, chest pain, shortness of breath — especially during physical activity.
How can vasculitis affect my lungs?
In the lungs, vasculitis can cause symptoms like fever and cough. On a chest x-ray, vasculitis in the lungs can look a lot like pneumonia (inflammation in air sacs of the lungs).
Rarely, vasculitis can lead to scarring of the lungs. This can cause chronic (long-term) shortness of breath.
How can vasculitis affect my kidneys?
People with lupus don’t usually have vasculitis in the kidneys unless they have lupus nephritis. If this does happen, you probably won’t have any symptoms — although most people with vasculitis in the kidneys have high blood pressure. It is common for people with lupus nephritis to have vasculitis in the kidneys.
How can vasculitis affect my eyes?
For some people, vasculitis in the eyes causes sudden blurry vision, which may lead to some vision loss. Others have no symptoms at all.
What causes vasculitis?
It is thought though that in some people with lupus the inflammatory process attacks the vessels like it does the kidney, the skin or the brain in others. Vasculitis may also be caused by:
- Certain medicines
- Other health conditions, like cancer
Your doctor can check for vasculitis with different kinds of tests, depending on where it’s affecting your body. Usually, the doctor will do a complete physical exam and ask questions about the symptoms you’re having and your medical history.
To diagnose vasculitis, the doctor may test your:
- Blood and blood vessels
- Organs in your belly, like the stomach and intestines
- Urine (pee)
- Tissue from the part of your body vasculitis is affecting
Many doctors can diagnose and treat vasculitis, but they may need to consult with a specialist to set up your care.
Some people with vasculitis may not need treatment — some people only have a few spots on their skin now and then. Your doctor may recommend treatment depending on:
- How serious your vasculitis is
- What organ it affects
- Your overall health
- How you’ve reacted to certain medicines in the past
If you do need treatment, most doctors recommend steroids. Some people with severe vasculitis or vasculitis that doesn’t respond well to steroid-type drugs will need other medicines, too.
Ask your doctor about what type of treatment may be right for you.
Our health educators are available to answer your questions and give you the help you need.