Is Polyarteritis Nodosa?
Polyarteritis nodosa (PAN) is a condition that causes swollen
arteries. It primarily affects small and medium arteries, which can become
inflamed or damaged. This is a serious disease of the blood vessels caused by
an immune system malfunction.
Ongoing treatment is crucial, and there’s a risk of serious
complications for people who have it and don’t seek medical care.
Are the Symptoms of Polyarteritis Nodosa?
PAN ultimately affects all of your organs, including the skin. It
can also affect your central nervous system.
The symptoms of PAN are quite pronounced and may include:
- a decreased appetite
- sudden weight loss
- abdominal pain
- excessive fatigue
- muscle and joint aches
According to Johns
Hopkins, PAN affects the nervous systems of up to 70 percent of people.
Without medical treatment, PAN can cause seizures and neurological issues,
including reduced alertness and cognitive dysfunction, after two to three
Skin lesions are also very common. PAN most often affects the
skin on the legs, and the sores can be painful.
Are the Causes of Polyarteritis Nodosa?
Your arteries carry blood to your tissues and organs. PAN is
characterized by damaged arteries that impede the flow of blood to the rest of
your body. When your organs don’t receive enough oxygen-rich blood, they stop
working the way they should. This type of arterial damage occurs when your
immune system attacks your arteries. There’s no one identifiable cause for this
immune reaction, so the exact cause of PAN also remains unknown.
Is at Risk for Polyarteritis Nodosa?
While the exact cause of PAN is unknown, there are many factors
that can increase your risk of developing the disease. PAN is more common in
- are 40 or older
- are male
- have an active hepatitis B or C infection
It’s important to understand these risk factors and talk to your
doctor about receiving regular tests. This is especially true if you experience
symptoms of PAN or if the condition runs in your family.
Is Polyarteritis Nodosa Diagnosed?
PAN is a complicated disease that requires multiple tests before your
doctor can make a proper diagnosis. Your doctor will likely order a complete
blood count to measure the number of red and white blood cells you have.
You may also undergo:
- a tissue biopsy, which involve taking a small
sample of an affected artery for laboratory examination
- an arteriogram, which is an X-ray of the
- an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test to
Most people with PAN have elevated ESR results. According to Johns
Hopkins, skin and muscle or nerve biopsies can be helpful when making a diagnosis.
Once these tests are complete, your doctor will formulate a
diagnosis and treatment plan.
In some cases, doctors may mistake abdominal pain and
gastrointestinal side effects for inflammatory bowel disease. For this reason,
it’s important to report any long-term gastrointestinal effects to your doctor
Are the Treatment Options for Polyarteritis Nodosa?
The most common treatment for PAN is a combination of
prescription drugs, including:
- immune suppressants
- antiviral medications
High doses of corticosteroids, or
steroids, control the symptoms of PAN by reducing inflammation and replacing
certain hormones in the body. Corticosteroids can cause a number of side
effects, especially when they’re taken in the oral form.
Corticosteroids can help keep your immune system from attacking
your arteries, but other types of immunosuppressive
medications may be necessary. This is especially true if your PAN
symptoms are severe.
People with hepatitis
infections primarily receive antiviral medications.
Are the Complications Associated with Polyarteritis Nodosa?
Conditions affecting the blood vessels are very serious. Damaged
arteries can ultimately affect your brain, heart, and other vital organs.
The most common complications of PAN include:
- a heart attack
- a stroke
- severe intestinal damage
- kidney failure
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
The outlook for this condition depends on the course of
treatment. People who don’t get medical care for this condition can die from
related complications. On the flip side, taking prescribed medications on a
regular basis can reduce PAN symptoms and improve your outlook. There’s no known
way to prevent PAN, so your best chance for recovery is to stick to your
treatment plan. The Cleveland
Clinic notes that, on average, over 80 percent of people who experience PAN
for five or more years survive.