The link between vasculitis and inflammatory arthritis

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis in an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of blood vessels, which carry blood to and from the heart as well as the body’s organs. Vasculitis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own blood vessels.

There are three types of vasculitis:

  • large vessel
  • medium vessel
  • small vessel

Giant cell arteritis is a type of large vessel vasculitis and causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the scalp, neck and arm. Read our handy information sheet on Giant Cell Arteritis to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

The link between vasculitis and arthritis

There are two types of vasculitis: primary vasculitis and secondary vasculitis.

Primary vasculitis is when the condition occurs suddenly on its own in a previously healthy individual. Secondary vasculitis is when it occurs alongside other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Sjögren’s syndrome.

Symptoms of vasculitis

Symptoms of vasculitis can be mild or severe, depending on the type of vasculitis and the organs affected. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains

Depending on which organ or part of the body is affected, there may also be other common physical signs of vasculitis. These include:

  • Skin: becoming red or purple with spots or bruises
  • Joints: pain or arthritis in more than one joint
  • Lungs: Shortness of breath or coughing up blood
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) tract: Stomach pain or sores in the mouth
  • Brain: Headaches, issues thinking clearly or changes in mental function
  • Nerves: Numbness, tingling or weakening in various areas of the body

Diagnosis can be done based on your signs and symptoms, medical history, physical exam as well as test results. To learn more about the type of tests which may be performed, read this article by Arthritis Foundation.

For people living with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, your Rheumatologist may conduct a blood test to assess the possibility of these conditions causing vasculitis. The blood test will allow the specialist to check how active these inflammatory diseases are, by measuring the level of rheumatoid factor in rheumatoid arthritis, and levels of certain proteins and antibodies in lupus.  

Treatment options

Once diagnosed, your Rheumatologist may begin treatment which aims to reduce inflammation in the affected blood vessels.

Treatment will depend on the type of vasculitis and the organs affected. This may be through a range of medications dependent on the severity of the condition.

You should talk to your Rheumatologist for advice on the type of medication which may be prescribed for you.

Other ways to manage your symptoms may involve following a healthy diet and exercising regularly.


September 2021