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The Link Between Vasculitis and Shortness of Breath

The Link Between Vasculitis and Shortness of Breath

Everybody gets a little short of breath from time to time, especially after a bout of strenuous exercise. But some people have shortness of breath a lot more often, typically because of an underlying health problem.

Asthma and heart disease are two well-known causes of shortness of breath. However, they’re not the only possible causes. Vasculitis is another possible cause. This is a condition in which blood vessels get inflamed, likely due to a faulty immune system response.

With four locations in Houston and Cypress, Texas, Houston Kidney Specialists Center is a leading provider of vasculitis treatments. We use state-of-the-art therapies and a patient-centered approach to reduce symptoms and improve overall wellness. Here’s how vasculitis can cause shortness of breath.

The basics of vasculitis

Researchers aren’t sure what causes vasculitis, but they do know it most likely involves an immune system response that causes inflammation inside your blood vessels. That immune system response may be triggered by an allergic reaction, an infection, or an autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your blood vessels.

As inflammation progresses inside your blood vessels, the vessel openings start to narrow, interfering with normal blood flow. Over time, vasculitis can prevent tissues and organs from getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function normally. Some people may form blood clots that slow or even block circulation.

Vasculitis can affect large, medium, or small blood vessels, and it can occur on its own — which is called primary vasculitis — or as a side effect of another underlying medical problem, such as lupus or hepatitis. The symptoms of vasculitis vary, depending on which vessels are affected.

Vasculitis and shortness of breath

Vasculitis causes shortness of breath in a couple of ways. First, when the blood vessels in your lungs are inflamed, it has a direct impact on how well your lungs function. You may find it harder to take in air, leaving you feeling breathless — especially during and after physical activity. 

At the same time, inflammation inside tiny blood vessels inside your lungs can make it harder for oxygen to get into your bloodstream. That means your other organs won’t get the oxygen they need to work the way they’re supposed to. Your organs will need to work a lot harder to get adequate oxygen, and that can lead to shortness of breath as well.

The decrease in blood oxygen levels and the extra workload for your lungs and other organs can also combine to cause another common vasculitis symptom: fatigue. If you often experience fatigue and shortness of breath, it’s very important to schedule an office visit so these symptoms can be medically evaluated.

Treating vasculitis

Vasculitis can often be successfully managed with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Our team performs a comprehensive exam and evaluation to develop a treatment plan that’s focused on your unique needs. Most therapies involve medication to address the two common causes of vasculitis and its symptoms: immune system function and inflammation.

Lifestyle changes

While changing lifestyle habits won’t “cure” vasculitis, taking simple steps, such as quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, and getting a healthy dose of physical exercise, can provide important support for your immune and circulatory systems.

Immunosuppressant medications

Immunosuppressants are medicines that manage your immune system response. In vasculitis, the type of medication and dosing will focus on controlling the aberrant immune response that attacks your blood vessel lining.


Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. In vasculitis, these medications are used to reduce or stop inflammation inside your blood vessels so they can function normally again. Corticosteroid dosing is determined based on your symptoms, your overall wellness, and other factors for optimal relief.


When severe vasculitis damages tissues, surgery may be necessary to repair that damage and restore normal circulation. Our team typically only recommends surgery in advanced cases that don’t respond to medication.

Chronic shortness of breath isn't normal

Feeling short of breath during or after mild activity isn’t normal, especially if it occurs on a regular basis with no improvement. If you find yourself routinely out of breath and fatigued, it’s time to have those symptoms evaluated by our team.

To learn more about vasculitis treatment or to schedule an evaluation, call 281-429-8780 or book an appointment online with Houston Kidney Specialists Center today.

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