Vasculitis | Heart and Vascular

Heart and Vascular Care


The UC Davis Vascular Center offers the latest minimally invasive treatments. Our specialists have expertise in treating all forms of vasculitis and will work with your physicians to coordinate your care.

Medically reviewed by Mimmie Kwong, M.D. on June 29, 2023.

Female patient in care room speaking with a female physician

What Is Vasculitis?

Vasculitis is inflammation in your blood vessels. It can affect any of the vessels in your body, including those in your heart.

Over time, inflammation can cause blood vessel damage. A damaged vessel can cut off blood supply to an organ, leading to organ damage.


Types of Vasculitis

There are several types of vasculitis, and you can rely on our specialized team to care for your specific diagnosis. The most common types of vasculitis are:

  • Buerger’s disease (thromboangitis obliterans), which affects blood vessels in your hands and feet. Blood clots may form in these vessels. Buerger’s is almost always caused by smoking or use of tobacco products.
  • Raynaud’s disease, which affects the arteries in your fingers or toes.
  • Takayusu’s arteritis, which usually affects the aorta, the largest blood vessel in your body.

Vasculitis Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of vasculitis you have and how severe it is. Symptoms can come on quickly in a matter of weeks or slowly over years.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Ear, eye and nose problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Nerve problems such as numbness or pain
  • Rashes, red spots or sores on your skin
  • Weakness

Emergency Symptoms

Get emergency medical care right away if you:

  • Cough up blood
  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Have heart palpitations (racing heartbeat)

Vasculitis Causes and Risk Factors

Vasculitis is an autoimmune disorder. This means your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. This leads to inflammation in your vessels.

For most people who develop vasculitis, the cause is not known. Certain things may trigger immune system processes that lead to vasculitis. Possible triggers include allergens, genetic differences, infections, medications or other illnesses.

There are some factors that can increase your risk of vasculitis, including the following: 


Some types of vasculitis are more common in certain age groups. For example, Kawasaki disease typically happens in children.

Biological Sex

Some types of vasculitis, such as Buerger’s disease, are more common in men. Others, such as giant cell arteritis, happen more often in women.

Family History

Vasculitis may run in families. Certain genes passed down from your parents may increase your chances for vasculitis.


Certain medications raise your risk. Examples include allopurinol for gout, hydralazine for high blood pressure, levamisole for infections and propylthiouracil for thyroid disorders.

Other Conditions

Conditions such as autoimmune disorders, hepatitis B or hepatitis C and lymphoma may raise your risk.

Smoking and Drug Use

Smoking raises your risk of certain types of vasculitis. Using cocaine, marijuana, and other drugs also raises your risk.


Diagnosing Vasculitis

At UC Davis Health, we use several tests and noninvasive imaging scans to diagnose vasculitis. You may undergo: 

  • Blood and urine tests: These look for signs of inflammation and other problems.
  • Biopsy: A test that examines a small piece of tissue for inflammation and blood vessel problems.
  • CT (computed tomography) scan: This combines several X-rays to show potential problems with your blood vessels.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A scan that creates an image showing the structures of your blood vessels.
  • X-ray: An imaging test that uses electromagnetic waves to create pictures of your blood vessels.

Vasculitis Treatments at UC Davis Health

Your treatment depends on what type of vasculitis you have. It also depends on what area of your body it affects and how bad your symptoms are.

At UC Davis Health, we’re experts at coordinating state-of-the-art care between the specialists treating you. Your treatment may include: 


Medications that suppress your immune system are common treatments for vasculitis. These may include biologics and corticosteroids.


If vasculitis damages blood vessels or organs, you may need surgery to remove the damaged tissue. We have the largest group of vascular specialists in the region.

Learn more about the UC Davis Division of Vascular Surgery

About how many types?

20Different types of vasculitis

Source: Vasculitis Foundation: General Vasculitis

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