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What is a Vasculitis Rash?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vasculitis, or blood vessel inflammation, can affect any part of the body and potentially cause major health complications. When capillaries near the skin are involved, the disease presents as an abnormal-looking rash that may be painful. Many different factors can contribute to the development of a vasculitis rash, including bacterial infections, autoimmune disorders, and medication use. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause, but most rashes go away in a matter of weeks without special care. Topical and oral medications are needed in some cases to relieve uncomfortable symptoms and shorten the healing time of the rash.

A vasculitis rash can appear anywhere on the body, but it is most often seen on the legs and ankles. It can manifest in many different ways. Some rashes appear suddenly and are characterized by splotchy patches of dark red or purple skin. Others develop gradually over the course of several weeks and create brittle blisters and lesions on the skin. Most vasculitis rashes are not itchy, though they may cause skin to become very tender to the touch. Additional symptoms of fever, fatigue, numbness, and joint pain are possible signs of a body-wide vasculitis complication that needs to be addressed immediately at a hospital.

The exact causes of vasculitis are not well understood, and in many cases an underlying factor cannot be discovered. Bacteria and viruses that penetrate the skin can damage blood vessels near the surface. Allergic reactions to drugs, food, or environmental pathogens can lead to inflammation and weakening of capillaries as well. In addition, certain autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, occasionally affect normal blood flow to the skin and cause blood vessel complications.

A doctor can usually diagnose a vasculitis rash based on the appearance alone. Blood tests are performed to screen for infections, autoimmune disorders, and other potential causes of symptoms. Additional blood work and diagnostic imaging scans may be needed if the doctor suspects that vasculitis may be present in other organs of the body. After confirming a diagnosis, the physician can explain the condition in detail and discuss different treatment options.

A vasculitis rash that does not appear to be related to an infection or another identifiable cause usually is treated conservatively. The doctor may simply suggest resting and elevating the affected leg as much as possible and applying a topical analgesic to relieve pain. The rash typically begins to resolve in a few weeks or months without causing health problems. Prescription antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or immune system suppressants are usually effective at clearing up rashes that are secondary to underlying conditions.

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Discussion Comments

By anon951390 — On May 15, 2014

I have had this rash for years and did not know what it was. It always appears after I have been out in the sun when it was very hot and humid. I thought it was due to the socks I was wearing with my tennis shoes so I got socks that did not go above the shoes. That did not stop the rash.

Now I again have it from sitting on a garden stool planting. It was very hot and humid Florida day. I looked down at my angles and there it was. It is

very ugly and somewhat painful to the touch. I just ignore it and after about two weeks it fades away. Once I have it on one leg, I usually have a mild case on the other. It also can be itchy.

I never had it when I was younger and I was always very active. I even get it when I ride my bike in the hot weather. I just grin and bear it. What else can you do.

By stoneMason — On Aug 14, 2013

@burcinc-- I get vasculitis rashes even when I'm not active. My doctor doesn't know the cause but he thinks that it has to do with my blood-thinning medication.

I think he's right. The rash kind of looks like there is bleeding under my skin. I wonder if blood-thinning medications and medications that affect blood pressure cause the capillaries to rupture and seep blood which in turn causes the rash?

By burcinc — On Aug 14, 2013

@ankara-- Because it tends to show up in older people who exercise, especially in the heat.

There is something about activity and heat that triggers a vasculitis rash. And vasculitis is more common in older people.

My dad gets this during the summer, when he goes for his daily jogs. For some reason, it doesn't usually happen in winter.

The first time it happened, we thought that he had a poison ivy rash. If you look up vasculitis rash photos, you will see that it looks similar to a poison ivy or poison oak rash. But the doctor said that it's a vasculitis rash and told my dad to take it easy and avoid heat. The rash disappears on its own in a few days. He doesn't have to do anything other than rest.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 13, 2013

Why is a vasculitis rash called "golfer's rash" or "golfer's vasculitis?"

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