Testing & Diagnosis for Vasculitis in Children

How is vasculitis diagnosed?

Because vasculitis can affect blood vessels in virtually any part of the body, its signs and symptoms vary greatly -- from rashes and muscle cramps to chest pain. But in general, to make a diagnosis of vasculitis, your child’s doctor will be looking for:

  • signs of general inflammation, including fatigue, low levels of red blood cells (anemia) and elevated blood proteins
  • symptoms of decreased or obstructed blood flow to specific parts of the body
  • direct evidence of blood vessel inflammation through imaging tests or biopsy

Since there’s no single test to show what kind of vasculitis your child has, your child’s doctor will gather information from a thorough physical exam and medical history plus a variety of diagnostic tools, such as:

  • blood tests to look for signs of inflammation in the body (namely, abnormal levels of blood cells or antibodies), including:
  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate)
  • C-reactive protein (CRP) test
  • complete blood cell count (CBC)
  • anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) test
  • urine tests to check for the presence of red blood cells or high levels of proteins, which may indicate that vasculitis is affecting the kidneys
  • imaging tests to examine the blood vessels and other internal organs. For example:
  • A chest x-ray may show whether vasculitis is affecting the lungs or large arteries.
  • Abdominal ultrasound may show whether vasculitis is affecting the intestines or other abdominal organs.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may show whether vasculitis is affecting the brain.
  • An angiogram(a kind of x-ray in which special dye is injected into an artery or vein) may show how vasculitis is affecting the blood vessels themselves.
  • biopsy(the surgical removal of a tissue sample) to check for direct evidence of inflammation in a blood vessel or other organ

After making a diagnosis, your child’s doctor will also use many of these same tests to monitor your child’s condition. But remember: As a parent, you have a vital part to play, too, by keeping the doctor fully up to date on any new symptoms or changes in your child’s health.