What is vasculitis, and how do I know if I have it?

Has your attention recently been drawn to the condition Vasculitis?

Whether you typed your symptoms into Google and were met with results around vasculitis, or a medical professional mentioned vasculitis in passing and you’re sitting down to do some research – you’re in the right place.

Within this blog, we will discuss exactly what vasculitis is, what the symptoms look like, how people are diagnosed with vasculitis, and what the treatment options for vasculitis look like.

We’ll also go into how APM's Disability Employment Services can help you in the workplace if you’re living with vasculitis.

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis refers to a group of rare diseases. Vasculitis (or anglitis) is a condition that results in inflammation of the blood vessels and causes changes to the blood vessel walls.

The inflammation caused by vasculitis can lead to thickening blood vessel walls, which narrows the passageway width through the vessel, reducing blood flow.

This reduced blood flow can cause organ and tissue damage.

There are approximately 20 types of vasculitis. The various types of vasculitis are categorised by the size of blood vessels which the disorder affects.

These categories include large, medium, and small vessel vasculitis.

The condition can affect anybody at any age. However, some variations are more prevalent in particular age groups. Vasculitis can be both acute and chronic.

How common is vasculitis?

Vasculitis is a rare condition. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis is the most commonly occurring type of vasculitis, affecting around five in a million people.

There are also other types of vasculitis; however, these variations are also rare.

What are the symptoms of vasculitis?

There are a number of symptoms that could potentially be related to vasculitis. This list is not a medically comprehensive list of symptoms and should not be used for the purpose of self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing one more of these symptoms, consult your GP.

A general list of symptoms for most types of vasculitis include:

  • Experiencing fever
  • Bodily aches and pains
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss

Some other symptoms may or may not be present depending on the body parts affected, these symptoms include:

  • Digestive issues – It is possible to experience pain after eating if your stomach or intestines are affected. There is a possibility of ulcers and perforations, which may cause blood in the stool.
  • Problems with your ears – You may experience dizziness, ringing in the ears, and sudden hearing loss.
  • Problems with your eyes – Vasculitis can cause your eyes to look red and itchy or burn. Depending on the severity of the condition, one or both eyes can become blind, or double vision can occur.
  • Changes in your hands or feet – Some types of vasculitis can cause numbness or weakness in the hands or feet. There may be swelling or hardening in the palms and soles of the hands and feet.
  • Lung issues – If your lungs are affected by vasculitis, you may experience shortness of breath or even cough up blood.
  • Skin issues – Red spots can appear as a result of bleeding under the skin. Skin lumps or open sores can also be caused by vasculitis.

How do I get diagnosed with vasculitis?

Consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

A timely diagnosis is key to getting effective treatment for some types of vasculitis that can quickly worsen.

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask about your symptoms, medical history, and family history.

In addition to a physical examination, the most common ways to diagnose vasculitis are:

  • Biopsies – A biopsy involves surgically removing a small piece of tissue to examine under a microscope
  • Angiograms – These are x-rays taken to detect abnormalities in blood vessels
  • Standard blood tests

What are the treatment options for vasculitis?

Vasculitis is referred to in the medical world as a 'self-limited disease'.

A self-limited disease is a disease process that resolves spontaneously with or without specific treatment.

Studies show that 90% of small vessel leukocytoclastic vasculitis (a common type of vasculitis affecting 45 million people worldwide) cases resolve within weeks to months of onset.

Treatment options are still available for those who are experiencing ongoing or more extreme cases of vasculitis.

Some common forms of treatment include glucocorticoids, steroid-sparing, and surgery.

If you are living with vasculitis, your doctor or treating professionals will recommend the best course of action for you.

How APM Disability Employment Services can help

Vasculitis is a supported condition under APM's Disability Employment Services.

Vasculitis patients who have difficulty finding a job or returning to work can receive support.

As part of APM, you can apply for Disability Employment Services, a government-funded program to help people with illnesses, injuries, and disabilities find and keep jobs.

The Australian Government funds the program, so participation is free.

Employment providers like APM can assist you in finding job opportunities, planning your career, and preparing for a job search.

APM can support you regardless of whether you are considering a career change or need support staying in your current position.

We help thousands of people succeed at work and achieve their goals through our support.

Check if you qualify for Disability Employment Services or by calling APM on 1800 276 276.