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Vasculitis Overview

The vascular system refers to the collection of all blood vessels in the body. Vasculitis is the term used for a group of diseases characterized by the inflammation of and damage to the blood vessels or the blood vessel walls. Vasculitis (plural vasculitides) can be a primary disease or a secondary condition related to another underlying disease.

Different types of vasculitis have certain patterns of distribution that may affect particular organs, certain types of vessels, or specific vessel sizes. Vasculitis diseases affecting arteries are sometimes called arteritis, and those involving the veins are sometimes called venulitis. Overall, vasculitides (all types of vasculitis or vasculitic disorders) are uncommon conditions.

In general terms, blood vessels can be divided into arteries, veins, and capillaries.

  1. Arteries are the blood vessels carrying oxygenated blood from the lungs away from the heart to different organs.
  2. Veins are blood vessels collecting the blood without oxygen from the body organs to carry back to heart to be pumped to the lungs where it receives oxygen.
  3. The largest artery is the aorta coming out of the left side of the heart. The aorta divides into many smaller branches as it passes through the body, thus giving rise to arteries of different sizes. The small arteries (arterioles) then branch further into capillaries, which are very small blood vessels distributed diffusely within all organs of the body. The exchange of oxygen and waste products between the blood vessels and tissues happens at the level of the capillaries. These small blood vessels then coalesce to form small veins (venules) which give rise to larger and larger veins that eventually end up in the right side of the heart via the body's largest vein, the vena cava.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/29/2014

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