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Autoimmune vasculitis is the name given to a group of diseases that are characterized by damaged and inflamed blood vessels. Vasculitis primarily occurs because of an autoimmune reaction, which causes the body to attack its own blood vessels with white blood cells. This leads to inflammation and weaker cell walls and eventually compromises the vessel, preventing adequate blood flow. Many of the symptoms of autoimmune vasculitis are caused by restricted blood flow to the organs because of weaker blood vessels. Common symptoms include fever, weakness and aches, which are often accompanied by organ-specific symptoms, depending on which organs are affected.
This type of vasculitis is diagnosed by performing blood tests to check each organ's functionality and looking for increased white blood cell counts. Usually, inflammation will be visible, and there might be a rash where blood vessels have broken under the strain. Some sufferers report discolored fingers and toes and a burning sensation in the affected joints.
When effectively treated, autoimmune vasculitis generally is not fatal. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential to prevent organ failure and further problems. The treatment for vasculitis is often independently tailored to each individual case but usually will involve a steroid to counter inflammation and medication to suppress the immune system and prevent further attacks. Depending on the diseases’ severity, medication also might be required to boost organ function, and an immunosuppressant might be necessary to prevent further damage to other blood vessels. Surgery usually is a last resort, although it might be required in cases where this type of vasculitis affects the brain, kidneys or lungs.
The cause of autoimmune vasculitis is unknown. It is a rare disease, affecting patients of any age and in varying degrees of severity. Some sufferers control their disease easily and go into long periods of remission, but others find their condition disabling. Vasculitis can be a symptom of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lymphomas, or it can be a result of exposure to chemicals such as cocaine and amphetamines. This condition is often accompanied by other low-immune-system conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, or Crohn’s colitis.