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Vasculitis is a clinicopathologic process characterized by inflammation of and damage to blood vessels. The vessel lumen is usually compromised, and this is associated with ischemia of the tissues supplied by the involved vessel. A broad and heterogeneous group of syndromes may result from this process, since any type, size, and location of blood vessel may be involved. Vasculitis and its consequences may be the primary or sole manifestation of a disease; alternatively, vasculitis may be a secondary component of another disease. Vasculitis may be confined to a single organ, such as the skin, or it may simultaneously involve several organ systems.


A major feature of the vasculitic syndromes as a group is the fact that there is a great deal of heterogeneity at the same time as there is considerable overlap among them. Table 356-1 lists the major vasculitis syndromes. The distinguishing and overlapping features of these syndromes are discussed below.

TABLE 356-1Vasculitis Syndromes


Generally, most of the vasculitic syndromes are assumed to be mediated at least in part by immunopathogenic mechanisms that occur in response to certain antigenic stimuli. However, evidence supporting this hypothesis is for the most part indirect and may reflect epiphenomena as opposed to true causality. Furthermore, it is unknown why some individuals might develop vasculitis in response to certain antigenic stimuli, whereas others do not. It is likely that a number of factors are involved in the ultimate expression of a vasculitic syndrome. These include the genetic predisposition, environmental exposures, and the regulatory mechanisms associated with immune response to certain antigens. Although immune complex formation, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCAs), and pathogenic T lymphocyte responses (Table 356-2) have been among the prominent hypothesized mechanisms, it is likely that the pathogenesis of individual forms of vasculitis is complex and varied.

TABLE 356-2Potential Mechanisms of Vessel Damage in Vasculitis Syndromes

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