Overview of Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a general term for a group of uncommon diseases that feature inflammation of the blood vessels. Vasculitis is characterized by inflammation in and damage to the walls of various blood vessels. Each of the vasculitis diseases are defined by certain patterns of distribution of blood vessel involvement, particular organ involvement, and lab test abnormalities. 

Causes of Vasculitis

The actual cause of these vasculitis diseases is usually not known. However, immune system abnormality and inflammation of blood vessels are common features.

Symptoms of Vasculitis

Symptoms vary greatly from person to person, and depend upon the organs affected and the severity. Examples are:

  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Weakness and weight loss
  • Rashes, skin discoloration and ulcers
  • Muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath and cough
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Headaches, confusion, seizures and stroke
  • Kidney failure

Diagnosis of Vasculitis

Vasculitis is definitively established after a biopsy of involved tissue demonstrates the pattern of blood vessel inflammation. Examples of tissues used for biopsy include skin, sinuses, lung, nerve and kidney. Depending upon the situation, an alternative to biopsy can be an X-ray test of the blood vessels called an angiogram.

Treatment for Vasculitis

  • Cortisone-related medications (steroids)
  • Immune suppression drugs


To request an appointment with a physician at St. Louis Children's Hospital, call 314.454.5437 or 800.678.5437 or email us.