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Overview of and approach to the vasculitides in adults

Peter A Merkel, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Eric L Matteson, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


The vasculitides are defined by the presence of inflammatory leukocytes in vessel walls with reactive damage to mural structures. Both loss of vessel integrity leading to bleeding, and compromise of the lumen may result in downstream tissue ischemia and necrosis. In general, affected vessels vary in size, type, and location in association with the specific type of vasculitis. Vasculitis may occur as a primary process or may be secondary to another underlying disease. The exact pathogenetic mechanisms underlying these diseases are unknown.

The vasculitides are often serious and sometimes fatal diseases that require prompt recognition and therapy. Symptomatic involvement of affected organs may either occur in isolation or in combination with multiple organs. The distribution of affected organs may suggest a particular type of vasculitis.

This topic will review the nomenclature of the different vasculitides and provide an overview of the approach to the patient with suspected vasculitis. An overview of the treatment of these disorders and detailed discussions of the individual disorders are presented separately. (See "Overview of the management of vasculitis in adults".)


The disease names and definitions of the vasculitides continue to evolve as our understanding of the pathogenesis advances. The international Chapel Hill Consensus Conference (CHCC) has developed one of the most widely used nomenclature systems which specifies the names and definitions for most forms of vasculitis [1,2]. The CHCC nomenclature system has changed over the past few decades, and definitions that were put forth by the CHCC in 1994 have since been revised in the 2012 CHCC (table 1 and table 2).

Among the notable changes in the 2012 CHCC was the preferential use and adoption of new names for several diseases, consistent with the trend of replacing eponyms with disease names that reflect an increased pathophysiologic understanding of these conditions. Among the name changes are: eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Churg-Strauss), abbreviated EGPA, in place of Churg-Strauss syndrome; granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's), abbreviated GPA, in place of Wegener’s granulomatosis; immunoglobulin A (IgA) vasculitis (Henoch-Schönlein), abbreviated as IgAV, in place of Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP); anti-C1q vasculitis as an alternative name for hypocomplementemic urticarial vasculitis, abbreviated HUV; and use of the term “cryoglobulinemic vasculitis” in place of “essential cryoglobulinemic vasculitis.” Furthermore, the 2012 CHCC formally adopted the term antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated vasculitis (AAV) for the group of three disorders that include microscopic polyangiitis (MPA), GPA, and EGPA, with additional categories also named to describe variable-vessel vasculitis and secondary forms of vasculitis. This nomenclature system is not meant to substitute for classification criteria, which include clinical observations that classify a specific patient into a category for a research purposes. (See 'Classification criteria' below.)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Sep 22, 2015.
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