Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Vasculitis

Vasculitis is a condition that results when the body’s immune system turns on itself and mistakenly attacks its own blood vessels. It can be triggered by another infection, an autoimmune disease like lupus, or blood cancers like leukemia.

Risk Factors

Vasculitis can affect anyone at any time. It is found in people of all ages and in both sexes. Some forms of vasculitis are more common in people of different ages (like giant cell arteritis in individuals over the age of 50); gender (microscopic polyangiitis found more often in men than women); and ethnicity (Behcet’s disease, in people of Middle Eastern descent). Risk factors also include:

  • Having medical conditions like hepatitis B or C
  • Having some autoimmune diseases, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Smoking

There are a handful of tests used to determine if vasculitis is present. Some are general tests and others are more focused on various parts of the body that might be affected by the condition. These include:

  • Blood tests: Used to determine if there are abnormal levels of protein in the blood, these include: hemoglobin and hematocrit (which show if there are low levels of red blood cells); antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies, present with certain types of vasculitis; and C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, indicators that inflammation is present.
  • Biopsy: In a biopsy, a physician takes a small sample of tissue from a blood vessel or organ. The tissue is then studied by a pathologist for inflammation or tissue damage.
  • Urinalysis: This test checks for protein in the blood cells or urine to see if vasculitis might be present in the kidneys.
  • Electrocardiogram, Echocardiogram and chest X-rays: These are diagnostic tests that produce images of the heart to show if it is affected by vasculitis.
  • Lung function tests: These tests are used to find out if air is moving freely in and out of your lungs or if there is blockage.
  • Ultrasound, CT scan and MRIs: These are imaging tests that create pictures of areas, such as the abdomen, to see if organs or blood vessels are affected.
  • Angiograph: In this test, dye and X-rays are used to determine if blood is flowing properly through the blood vessels.


Complications of vasculitis vary depending upon where it is found in your body. Potential problems include kidney failure, blindness, aneurysm (bulge in the wall of the blood vessel), tissue damage and heart problems.