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What are the symptoms of vasculitis?

When any part of your body is inflamed, it swells and is uncomfortable or painful. With many types of vasculitis the swelling is inside the body and you can't see any of the symptoms on the outside.

Vasculitis takes different forms according to which blood vessels are affected, and symptoms vary. Many people with vasculitis feel unwell and have fever, sweats, fatigue and weight loss. These can be the first symptoms experienced, so it's important to be seen by your GP.

Other symptoms vary according to which part of the body is affected, for example:

  • Skin – vasculitis in the skin causes spots that can burst, leaving open sores (ulcers). When vasculitis only affects the skin, long-term effects aren't usually serious, and symptoms normally clear up once inflammation has settled.
  • Nose – vasculitis here causes crusting inside the nose and nosebleeds. Sometimes the shape of the nose can change.
  • Fingers and toes – some people with vasculitis experience Raynaud's phenomenon, where the fingers or toes turn white or blue and may tingle or hurt when exposed to cold conditions.
  • Eyes – some types of vasculitis can suddenly affect your vision or cause your eye/s to become red or painful. It's very important to see a doctor quickly if this happens.
  • Nerves – inflammation of the nerves can cause tingling (pins and needles), pain and burning sensations or weakness in the arms and legs.
  • Joints – vasculitis can cause joint pain or swelling.
  • Muscles – inflammation here causes muscle aches, and eventually your muscles could become weak.
  • Lungs – inflammation of the lungs causes coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Brain – occasionally the blood vessels in the brain can be affected, causing problems like strokes.
  • Kidneys – when vasculitis affects the kidneys there may be problems passing urine or blood in the urine. Vasculitis of the kidneys can be dangerous as symptoms may not appear until the kidneys have been damaged. In severe cases treatment on an artificial kidney (dialysis) machine may be necessary.

Headaches, pain in the jaw and problems with the eyes can be serious symptoms of giant cell arteritis (GCA).

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