Lupus vasculitis is one of numerous complications that can arise from the chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease known as lupus. Vasculitis occurs when white blood cells, which usually act in a beneficial way in the body, actually attack both small and large blood vessels, causing inflammation. The damage done by lupus vasculitis can range from minor skin blemishes to severe organ damage caused by the destruction of tissue around those organs. This condition is usually diagnosed via blood tests, although other procedures may be used depending on the affected areas. Treatment generally begins with cortisone-based medications, which, in more severe cases, are then bolstered by the addition of cytotoxic drugs.
Vasculitis generally stems from a process that begins when antigens cause an allergic reaction in the blood vessel walls. Antibodies are then created, which bond to the antigen, thereby attracting white blood cells to the afflicted area to destroy the antigen. In lupus vasculitis, these white blood cells then accumulate in the vessel walls, causing blood vessel inflammation.
The damage done by this inflammation can be minor, such as when small blood vessels, or capillaries, break, causing red or purple dots on the skin that are usually painless. Depending on the severity of the inflammation and the location, the problems caused by lupus vasculitis can be much more severe. For instance, inflammation can narrow the vessel walls, causing reduced blood flow to a certain area. It may even cause blood clots. Tissue surrounding the inflammation may die, which can lead to gangrene.
Serious issues can arise when lupus vasculitis affects the tissue near major organs. Vision loss due to tissue damage near the retina, pneumonia-like symptoms caused by vasculitis near the lungs, and even brain complications such as headaches, seizures, or strokes, are all possibilities. More commonly associated with this condition are joint problems, such as aching, swelling, or arthritis.
Diagnosis of lupus vasculitis usually comes from blood tests that determine the number of white and red blood cells or the presence of autoantibodies, which are created when antigens and antibodies bond together. Depending on the location of the problem, tests such as computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans or x-rays may be administered. Tissue samples via a biopsy also can definitively detect lupus vasculitis.
Treatment of lupus vasculitis may not be necessary if the problem is limited to the minor bleeding or red or purple spots caused by breaking capillaries. More severe cases often require prescription cortisone-based drugs known as corticosteroids. If they don't limit the effects of the condition, cytotoxic drugs are the next step in fighting vasculitis. These drugs are usually administered in tandem with the corticosteroids.