Vasculitis is a common complication of active lupus that affects your blood vessels. Symptoms depend on which blood vessels are involved and can range from skin issues and headaches to seizures and strokes.

Vasculitis is a condition that involves inflammation that can damage your blood vessels. Depending on the type, vasculitis can affect various blood vessels throughout your body. While vasculitis itself is rare, it’s not an uncommon complication of active lupus.

If you or a loved one has lupus and you’re concerned about the possible development of vasculitis, consider talking with a doctor about the following possible signs and symptoms, as well as your treatment options.

Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. Many things can trigger vasculitis. In the case of lupus, vasculitis develops when your immune system attacks your own blood vessels.

Doctors classify vasculitis as either “primary” or “secondary.” Primary vasculitis is idiopathic, meaning there’s no underlying cause. Secondary vasculitis means something has caused the condition. Severe disease activity in autoimmune diseases like lupus is linked to an increased chance of vasculitis.

When vasculitis develops as a complication of lupus, it’s known as lupus vasculitis. While it can affect any area of the body, it typically affects the skin.

Other possible causes of vasculitis in people with lupus include:

  • certain medications, such as minocycline and doxycycline
  • other health conditions
  • infections

General symptoms of vasculitis can include:

  • rashes
  • joint and muscle pain
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • unintentional weight loss

However, depending on the exact type of vasculitis you have, you might experience more signs and symptoms affecting a particular body part or system. These include your:

  • Skin: This is the most common form of lupus vasculitis. It can cause discolored spots on your skin, rashes that resemble hives, and ulcers or bruises. Some people may also experience black spots or dead skin around their fingers or toes.
  • Joints: Vasculitis can cause joint pain, along with swelling and heat.
  • Brain: Headaches, confusion, and seizures are possible.
  • Nerves: You may experience signs of peripheral nerve damage, including tingling and numbness that affects your hands and arms or your legs and feet.
  • Digestive system: If vasculitis affects these blood vessels, you may experience abdominal pain, bloating, and cramps. Bloody stools are also possible.
  • Lungs: Shortness of breath and cough are common symptoms.
  • Eyes: Vasculitis in your eyes can cause blurry vision or vision loss.
  • Kidneys: This may cause high blood pressure.
  • Heart: Possible symptoms include shortness of breath or chest pain that may worsen with physical activity.

Diagnosing vasculitis in lupus involves reviewing your medical history and the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing. As with lupus, no single test can determine whether you have vasculitis.

To start, a doctor may order:

  • blood tests
  • imaging tests
  • urine tests
  • biopsies to collect tissue samples from where symptoms develop

It’s also possible for lupus vasculitis to present with a positive antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody blood test result.

There’s no single treatment for lupus vasculitis. Instead, a doctor will focus on treating the affected areas of your body. Common treatments include steroids or other immune system-suppressing drugs that help prevent your immune system from attacking blood vessels.

Treating vasculitis is essential for alleviating related symptoms but can also help reduce your chance of complications.

If you have lupus, it’s also important to keep following your treatment plan as recommended by a doctor. While some lupus medications may increase your risk of vasculitis, you shouldn’t stop taking them without first talking with a healthcare professional.

When blood vessel inflammation occurs in vasculitis, the vessel walls thicken. Over time, this can cause your blood vessels to narrow and weaken. Subsequently, this can increase your chance of related complications.

Possible complications of lupus vasculitis generally include:

Organ damage may develop because blood cannot flow to them as efficiently.

Your outlook with lupus vasculitis depends on which part of your body is affected. Vasculitis involving internal organs, like your lungs or digestive system, may have a poorer outlook than other areas of the body.

For example, mesenteric vasculitis is an extremely rare complication of lupus that affects the blood vessels in your gastrointestinal tract. About half of people who develop this complication die without prompt diagnosis and treatment, according to a 2021 review.

While treatment can help you manage symptoms, vasculitis is a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment. Without treatment, vasculitis may worsen your outlook with lupus, depending on the extent of inflammation and subsequent damage.

Consider discussing the following common questions about lupus vasculitis with a doctor.

How common is lupus vasculitis?

Lupus vasculitis is relatively common, affecting about 11–36% of people with lupus, though some studies put the figure as high as 50%. However, the severity of the condition varies greatly, with some people experiencing mild vasculitis and others developing life threatening complications.

What autoimmune diseases cause vasculitis?

While vasculitis can develop on its own, it may also be due to other autoimmune diseases. In addition to lupus, these include Sjögren disease, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is the life expectancy of people with lupus vasculitis?

The exact life expectancy of people with lupus vasculitis isn’t known. With treatment, most people with lupus have average lifespans. However, developing vasculitis can affect this, particularly if there is damage to major organs.

Vasculitis, or inflammation of your blood vessels, is a common complication of active lupus. While the symptoms of vasculitis are wide-ranging and depend on which blood vessels are affected, it’s important to report any unusual symptoms to your doctor.

Like lupus, vasculitis is treatable even though there isn’t a cure. Prompt treatment may help prevent further complications associated with thickened and weakened blood vessels.