Vasculitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are the Symptoms of Vasculitis?

There are many types of vasculitis, each capable of restricting the flow of blood to virtually any tissue, organ or structure of the body. This leads to an extensive list of potential symptoms, depending on where the inflammation is occurring or the blood flow is being compromised.

Symptoms may be mild or severe and may occur only once or return regularly. In some instances, there are no symptoms until the disease is very advanced.

Heart: Fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, impaired breathing, chest pain

Lungs: Chest pain, impaired breathing, asthma, coughing up blood

Central Nervous System: Headache, impaired vision, nerve damage, strokes

Arms/Legs/Hands/Feet: Pain, stiffness, discoloration, numbness, weakness

Kidneys: Elevated blood pressure, weight loss, nausea, bloody urine

Digestive tract: Abdominal pain, bloody stools, weight loss

Skin: Sores or lesions, rash, discoloration (including purpura)

Eyes: Eye pain, blurred vision, vision loss, red eyes

Ears: Hearing trouble, hearing loss, ear pressure

Nose: Sinus problems, congestion, nosebleeds

How Is Vasculitis Diagnosed?

Vasculitis is challenging to diagnose because it comes in so many forms, with such a wide variety of symptoms, and because in its early stages, some patients may be virtually symptom free. Early diagnosis and treatment is the best way to avoid severe disease and permanent damage to organs and tissues.

One or more of the following are used to diagnose vasculitis:

  • Physical examination and health history: Based on symptoms, doctors may suspect vasculitis and pursue additional tests to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Blood / laboratory tests: Blood that tests positive for the antibody ANCA may be an indication of one of three ANCA-associated forms of vasculitis, also can be helpful to rule out other diseases that can mimic vasculitis.
  • Biopsy: Removal of a sample of tissue from the affected area for analysis.
  • Imaging: Can include ultrasound to look at blood flow and/or angiography (CT or MR) a form of imaging used to examine blood vessels.

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Online resources from the following organizations were cited for information on vasculitis types, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment:  

  • The American College of Rheumatology
  • The Arthritis Foundation
  • The Vasculitis Foundation
  • NIH Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center
  • Archives of Neurology (PubMed)