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Vasculitis in Children

  • Overview

    Day in and day out, tens of thousands of miles of blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients to every part of your child’s body. When blood vessels become inflamed -- a condition called vasculitis -- it can slow or even shut down these vital deliveries. Vasculitis is generally rare in children, but when it occurs doctors take it very seriously, because of its potential for damaging still-growing organs and tissues.

    • “Vasculitis” is a general term for inflammation of the blood vessels, which include arteries, veins and capillaries.
    • With inflammation -- a process that causes swelling and irritation -- blood vessels may become narrow or even blocked. Inflammation can also weaken blood vessel walls.
    • There are many forms of vasculitis, ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening, because the inflammation may:
    • affect blood vessels of any type or size
    • involve a single organ or many organs and tissues, including the heart, brain and kidneys
    • The most common form of vasculitis in children is Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP), which affects blood vessels in the skin, intestines and often the kidneys.
    • The second most common form in children is Kawasaki disease, which affects blood vessels in many parts of the body, often those around the heart.
    • HSP, Kawasaki disease and other forms of vasculitis are autoimmune illnesses, meaning that -- for reasons doctors don’t yet fully understand -- the immune system is mistakenly attacking the body itself.

    While vasculitis can’t be prevented or cured, it can go into remission -- meaning the disease is not active, and its signs and symptoms go away. With early diagnosis and the right treatment, the vast majority of children with vasculitis can achieve remission and go on to lead full and normal lives.

    How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches vasculitis

    Children’s is famed as a national referral center for Kawasaki disease, and most of the current therapies for this illnesses were either initiated or validated here. But we successfully treat many other kinds of childhood vasculitis as well, building on these strengths:

    • Our rheumatologists -- the specialists with the most experience in diagnosing and treating vasculitis -- make up one of the largest pediatric rheumatology departments in the U.S., seeing more than 4,000 outpatients and almost 1,000 inpatients every year.
    • Our Samara Jan Turkel Clinical Center for Pediatric Autoimmune Disease brings together pediatric rheumatologists and consulting specialists from across the hospital to offer comprehensive, coordinated care for children with vasculitis.
    • We’ve established unique collaborations between departments, such as the Dermatology-Rheumatology Center, which unites rheumatologists and dermatologists in caring for children with vasculitis involving the skin. Another example is the Multiple Manifestations of Autoimmune Disease Clinic, where rheumatologists and immunologists work together to help children with many autoimmune problems -- including vasculitis -- for whom a single diagnosis doesn’t fit.

    Reviewed by Robert Sundel, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston, 2011

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