Polyarteritis nodosa is a serious blood vessel disease. The small and medium-sized arteries become swollen and damaged.
Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to organs and tissues. The cause of polyarteritis nodosa is unknown. The condition occurs when certain immune cells attack the affected arteries.
More adults than children get this disease. The tissues that are fed by the affected arteries do not get the oxygen and nourishment they need. Damage occurs as a result.
People with active hepatitis B or hepatitis C may develop this disease.
Symptoms are caused by damage to affected organs. The skin, joints, muscle, gastrointestinal tract, heart, kidneys, and nervous system are often affected.
Other blood tests may be done to rule out similar conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (ANA) or granulomatosis with polyangiitis (ANCA).
Treatment involves medicines to suppress the immune system. These may include steroids, such as prednisone. Similar medicines, such as azathioprine, methotrexate or mycophenolate that allow for reducing the dose of steroids are often used as well. Cyclophosphamide is used in severe cases.
For polyarteritis nodosa related to hepatitis, treatment may involve plasmapheresis and antiviral medicines.
Current treatments with steroids and other drugs that suppress the immune system (such as azathioprine or cyclophosphamide) can improve symptoms and the chance of long-term survival.
The most serious complications usually involve the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.
Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.