The Most Common Forms of Vasculitis

Though all types of vasculitis are considered to be rare diseases, some are more common than others. A few forms affect only one in a million people, making them truly rare. 

But the most common form, giant cell arteritis, is diagnosed in 278 of every 100,000 people. And another type of vasculitis is the second most common rheumatic disease.

No matter how rare, all the different types of vasculitis cause inflammation in blood vessels. Without treatment from Behnam Khaleghi, MD, and our team at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center, the inflammation deprives tissues of oxygen and leads to serious complications.

In this article, we share more about the four most common types of vasculitis and their symptoms. If you have similar symptoms that don’t improve or get worse, call us to schedule a consultation.

Giant cell arteritis (GCA)

GCA, the most common type of vasculitis, occurs in people over the age of 50. This type of vasculitis affects the arteries in your neck and scalp, especially in your temples.

The temporal artery comes up from your neck, runs along the front of your ears, and branches to serve areas of your temple and scalp. When this artery is inflamed, it can cause severe, throbbing pain. GCA can lead to serious complications, including blindness and stroke, if it goes untreated.

You may also have one or more of these symptoms:

GCA is associated with another type of vasculitis, polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). At least half of all people with GCA develop PMR, and 20% of those with PMR also have GCA.

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)

After rheumatoid arthritis, PMR is the second most common rheumatoid disease. PMR primarily causes pain, stiffness, and limited movement in your shoulder and hips, but it can also affect your neck, lower back, and thighs.

Like many types of arthritis, your joint symptoms are worse in the morning or after you rest. You may also feel fatigued, run a low-grade temperature, or lose your appetite.

Polyarteritis nodosa (PAN)

PAN can occur at any age but it typically first appears between the ages of 45-65 years. This form of vasculitis develops in the medium-sized blood vessels that supply many organs and tissues, including your skin, joints, kidneys, nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and heart.

Inflamed blood vessels restrict blood flow. Without enough oxygen and nutrients, the affected organ becomes scarred and damaged. 

The symptoms you develop depend on which blood vessels are affected and the organs they serve. If the blood vessels carrying blood to your kidneys are inflamed, you may develop chronic kidney disease and hypertension. Ongoing hypertension then leads to complications like clogged arteries and heart disease.

PAN may cause skin symptoms such as tender nodules, ulcerations, or reddish-blue skin discoloration. Or you may experience any number of symptoms, from muscle and joint pain to chest and abdominal pain. 

Like other types of vasculitis, inflammation arising from PAN can cause general symptoms. You may develop fatigue, lose weight, or have a low-grade fever.

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA)

Once called Wegener’s granulomatosis, GPA first appears between the ages of 40 and 65. This type of vasculitis most often affects the blood vessels serving your sinuses, lungs, and kidneys. Though not as common, GPA can also involve other organs.

GPA typically progresses rapidly, so it’s important to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment. In its early stages, GPA causes cold-like symptoms. It’s common to have a runny nose, congestion, sinus pain, and nosebleeds.

As the disease progresses, you may start to experience:

If you have a cold that doesn’t improve, don’t wait to schedule an appointment for a thorough evaluation. Without treatment for GPA, you’re at risk of developing kidney damage, heart disease, and hearing loss, to name a few possible complications.

To get expert care for any type of vasculitis, call Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center or book an appointment online today.

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