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UPMC Vasculitis Center

What Is Vasculitis?

Vasculitis is a disease characterized by swelling of blood vessels that causes them to thicken, narrow, weaken, or scar.

Vasculitis can:

  • Occur suddenly, or evolve over weeks or months
  • Affect a single area of the body, or involve multiple locations
  • Range from mild to life-threatening

Primary vasculitis occurs without any known cause and can result in a variety of other diseases, such as:

  • Wegener’s granulomatosis
  • Microscopic polyangiitis
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome
  • Henoch-Schonlein purpura
  • Polyarteritis nodosa
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Primary angiitis of the central nervous system (CNS vasculitis)
  • Temporal arteritis/giant cell arteritis
  • Takayasu’s arteritis

Secondary vasculitis occurs from medication, or as a result of another disease, such as:

  • An autoimmune disorder
  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
  • Cancer, such as lymphoma or leukemia

Why Choose the UPMC Vasculitis Center?

Our holistic approach at the UPMC Vasculitis Center provides patients with the proper diagnosis and treatment options that are tailored to each patient's specific needs.

It's important to be proactive in treating and managing vasculitis, since early treatment may lead to a more positive outcome.

Vasculitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

The UPMC Vasculitis Center offers a holistic approach to diagnosing vasculitis. Our physicians check for various symptoms related to vasculitis and perform several tests to ensure a correct diagnosis.

Vasculitis signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of vasculitis depend on which blood vessels are involved.

With any type of vasculitis, people generally don't feel well, and may experience:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Specific organ systems of the body affected by vasculitis may cause the following signs or symptoms:



  • Stroke
  • Headache
  • Vision changes
  • Memory loss



  • Inflammation
  • Vision loss

Ear, nose, throat, and sinuses


  • Inflammation and infection
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear pain
  • Nose or mouth sores
  • Nose bleeding
  • Change in voice
  • Hoarseness
  • Nasal congestion



  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Abnormal chest x-ray or CT scan



  • Heart attack
  • Angina

Stomach and colon


  • Bleeding from stomach or bowels
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • perforation (hole) in intestines



  • Blood in urine
  • Protein in urine
  • Kidney failure



  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Shooting pain
  • Weakness in arms or legs



  • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Elevated white blood cell count
  • Elevated platelet count

Testing for vasculitis

It's important to remember that each of the signs and symptoms above are not exclusive to vasculitis and can be seen in many other conditions.

In addition to a physical exam, doctors may order the following tests to help make the diagnosis of vasculitis:

  • Blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Imaging studies — such as x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, ultrasound, and angiography
  • A biopsy may be necessary in some cases

Vasculitis Treatments

The doctors at the UPMC Vasculitis Center use specific medications to treat vasculitis.

Individualized treatment depends on:

  • The particular type of vasculitis
  • Which organs or tissues are affected
  • Any underlying health conditions

Medicines for treating vasculitis

  • Steroids are used to suppress the abnormal immune response that has led to blood vessel damage. In keeping with our holistic approach to treatment, we often give people additional medicines — such as calcium and vitamin D supplements — to avoid the increased possibility of osteoporosis that can result from taking steroids.
  • Patients may require antibiotic therapy if their immune system becomes suppressed during the treatment process.

Did You Know?

The University of Pittsburgh/UPMC is one of only nine academic institutions in the nation given the distinction of being named a "Vasculitis Center" by the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC), a member of the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network that is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The VCRC is an organization of premier academic medical centers, whose members include:

  • Boston University Medical Center
  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Cleveland Clinic Foundation
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of California in San Francisco
  • University of Utah
  • Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto
  • St. Joseph’s Hospital in Ontario

The VCRC is also an interface between patient support organizations and clinical and translational research that is dedicated to studying different forms of vasculitis with the hope of improving the care of patients with vasculitis.