Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


7-minute read

Key facts

  • Vasculitis is a group of disorders where you have inflammation of your blood vessels.
  • Vasculitis can cause a range of different symptoms depending on the type and the body part/s affected.
  • If the vasculitis is from an infection it will usually improve when the underlying problem is treated.
  • Vasculitis can also be from an autoimmune disorder — this needs treatment with medicines that act on your immune system.
  • It is important to seek help right away if you think you have vasculitis, as early treatment can help prevent long-term damage.

What is vasculitis?

Vasculitis occurs when there is inflammation of your blood vessels.

The inflammation can cause blood vessels to narrow. This may reduce blood flow to part of the body (ischaemia) or cause blood clots (thrombosis).

Vasculitis can happen from a range of medical conditions (vasculitic disorders), most of which are quite rare.

Some common types of vasculitis include:

  • giant cell (temporal) arteritis — affects arteries of the head and neck
  • polymyalgia rheumatica — inflammation and swelling in joint and muscles
  • Kawasaki disease — affects skin, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, and blood vessels
  • polyarteritis nodosa — affects arteries, kidneys, gut, nerves, and skin

What causes vasculitis?

Vasculitis disorders can be from:

Before considering autoimmunity as the cause of a vasculitis disorder, it's important for your doctor to rule out causes that they can manage or treat, such as allergies, hypersensitivity, and infections.

What are the symptoms of vasculitis?

The symptoms of vasculitis can vary, depending on the specific type of the disorder.

General symptoms of vasculitis, include:

Other symptoms can occur in different parts of your body, depending on the type of vasculitis:

When should I see my doctor?

It is important to seek help right away if you think you have vasculitis, as early treatment can help prevent long-term damage. Once diagnosed you should see your doctor regularly to check how you are going as the disease can get better and worse over time.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is vasculitis diagnosed?

It can be difficult to diagnose vasculitis because the symptoms can be similar to other illnesses.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. Your doctor may also refer you for tests, including:

In some cases, your doctor may also recommend lung function tests or nerve conduction studies.

To confirm a diagnosis of vasculitis, your doctor may also recommend a biopsy. This involves collecting a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is vasculitis treated?

If the vasculitis is from an allergy or hypersensitivity, removing the cause usually stops the symptoms.

If it is due to an autoimmune condition, medicines can help control the symptoms and often leads to remission of the vasculitis (where symptoms become less severe or disappear).

Medicines for vasculitis include:

  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • medicines that suppress the immune system (for example cyclophosphamide, methotrexate or azathioprine)
  • biologic agents, which act on certain parts of the immune system to control inflammation (for example rituximab, tocilizumab and mepolizumab)
  • plasma exchange, intravenous gamma globulin or surgery, in very severe cases

You may need to take medicines for vasculitis for a long time, and they may have side effects, including your ability to fight infection. Talk to your doctor about influenza, pneumonia, and shingles vaccines to reduce your risk.

It is also important to talk to your doctor about how to reduce the side effects of your medicines.

To search medicines by active ingredient or brand name, use the healthdirect Medicines search feature.

Complications of vasculitis

If you have vasculitis that is not treated or took a long time to diagnose you may develop complications. The complications depend on the type of vasculitis you have and how severe it is.

Complications may include:

Resources and support

ASCIA has a fact sheet with information about vasculitis disorders.

The Australia and New Zealand Vasculitis Society has information about vasculitis, what to expect and patient support.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

ACD A-Z of Skin - Cutaneous Small Vessel Vasculitis

A-Z OF SKIN Cutaneous Small Vessel Vasculitis BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Also known as … Cutaneous Leukocytoclastic Vasculitis, Cutaneous Leukocytoclastic Angiitis, Hypersensitivity Angiitis and Cutaneous Necrotizing Venulitis What is Cutaneous Small Vessel Vasculitis? Cutaneous Small Vessel Vasculitis (CSVV) is a condition caused by inflammation of the skin’s blood vessels

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Vasculitis disorders - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Vasculitis disorders result from inflammation of blood vessels, are relatively rare and can affect people of all ages. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (previously known as Wegener’s granulomatosis) is the most common form of vasculitis and affects around 5 in a million people.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Autoimmunity - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE),  Autoimmune Diseases, Vasculitis disorders  

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Kawasaki’s disease

Kawasaki’s disease is a rare form of vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels). It can affect many parts of the body.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) | Pathology Tests Explained

Antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) are a group of autoantibodies produced when a person's immune system mistakenly targets its own neutrophil prote

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica -

Find out about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis (also known as temporal arteritis) and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR).

Read more on myDr website

Polymyalgia Rheumatica — Symptoms & Treatments | MSK Australia

Do you have Polymyalgia Rheumatica? Find out more about your musculoskeletal condition, how to manage, and where to find support. Call 1800 263 265

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Kawasaki disease -

Kawasaki disease is a childhood illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis) and a high fever. Most children make a full recovery, but some develop heart problems.

Read more on myDr website

Autoimmune Diseases - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

ASCIA PC FAST FACTS Autoimmune Diseases 2023

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Leg ulcers

Leg ulcers are extremely common and occur more frequently in elderly people. In countries with developed health systems, 1-3% of the total health budget is spent on treating leg ulcers.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.