Vasculitis is a chronic condition that causes inflammation inside the walls of your blood vessels. Inflammation causes swelling, and when that swelling happens inside your vessels, it can wind up limiting or even cutting off blood flow to organs and tissues.
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes vasculitis, but what they do know is that it’s triggered by an abnormal immune response. While your immune system typically fights off germs, in vasculitis, it attacks healthy blood vessel tissue, resulting in widespread inflammation. Some people develop vasculitis as a side effect of medication or as a symptom of hepatitis.
Vasculitis can affect any blood vessel, from the tiniest to the largest, such as your aorta. At Houston Kidney Specialists Center, our team works closely with vasculitis patients at our four locations in Houston and Cypress, Texas, helping women and men manage their symptoms and improve their overall health.
For most people, treating vasculitis involves at least one of three methods: corticosteroids, immunosuppressant medicines, or surgery. Here’s how each approach works to manage vasculitis.
Corticosteroids (or steroids) are powerful medicines that help decrease inflammation. In vasculitis, corticosteroids reduce inflammation inside your blood vessels. There are different types of corticosteroids, including glucocorticoids, the type commonly used with vasculitis.
Glucocorticoids work by increasing the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals and decreasing the production of other substances that promote inflammation. Specifically, they bind with glucose receptors that manage anti-inflammatory and pro-inflammatory signaling.
Your adrenal glands also produce glucocorticoids as part of the natural stress response. When given as a therapy, glucocorticoids help your body manage excessive inflammation, including the inflammation involved in vasculitis. In fact, these medicines have been used to combat inflammation since the 1940s.
Some people are confused when they learn their therapy will include “steroids.” That’s because the terms “glucocorticoids,” “corticosteroids,” and “steroids” are often used interchangeably.
The confusion happens because most of us associate “steroids” with anabolic steroids, a synthetic form of testosterone sometimes used by bodybuilders, weightlifters, and other athletes. It’s important to know that the “steroids” used in vasculitis are glucocorticoids and not anabolic steroids.
Corticosteroids help manage some of the unusual immune responses associated with vasculitis. But many patients benefit from stronger medications developed specifically for immune system disorders.
These are called immunosuppressants, and they include a variety of medicines that reduce the activity of your immune system. Since vasculitis involves immune system dysfunction, immunosuppressants can play a big role in helping manage the condition.
There are many types of immunosuppressant medications, and different medicines work in different ways. Although they may use different pathways, the overarching goal of these drugs is to prevent the immune system from attacking healthy tissues — in this case, the tissues that make up your blood vessels.
Many people with vasculitis are able to manage their condition with medication. However, if these therapies fail and vessels become severely blocked, surgery is typically the next step.
Surgery can be used in a couple of ways to manage vasculitis symptoms and complications. Depending on which vessels are involved, our team may recommend a surgical procedure called angioplasty to “open up” or widen the inside of the vessel, making it easier for blood to flow through it. Often, angioplasty is combined with a stent, a flexible “scaffolding” that helps keep the vessel open.
When a vessel is very badly damaged, a bypass is often the better choice. In this procedure, a blood vessel graft is used to restore blood flow, “bypassing” the damaged part of the vessel. If vasculitis affects your kidneys, you may require a kidney transplant to preserve kidney function.
Like many medical conditions, vasculitis responds best when it’s treated early. If you have vasculitis, our team can design a treatment plan just for you.
To learn more, call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.