Polyarteritis nodosa is an inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis) rare but potentially fatal disease that damages the walls of the arteries of small and medium-sized body. This damage reduces blood supply and nutrients to the arteries, which causes the injury or destruction of surrounding tissue in many parts of the body. The disease most commonly affects the kidneys, the nerves of the arms and legs and abdominal organs, but can also affect the skin, joints, brain, heart, eyes and genitals.
In individual organs, polyarteritis nodosa can have the following effects:
- Kidneys: renal failure and high blood pressure associated with kidney failure
- Nervous system: nerve damage in the arms and legs, loss of sensation and movement caused by a specific lesion of a nerve. In the brain, the injury can trigger strokes, seizures or sudden disturbances in nerve function.
- Abdominal organs: intestinal pain, liver or pancreas, especially after eating, or even death of a portion of an organ caused by interruption of blood supply. May break suddenly artery aneurysms, which are inflammation (swelling) like a balloon that formed along an artery in the areas where the vasculitis has weakened the arterial wall. This can lead to hemorrhage (bleeding) death in the abdomen, accompanied by severe abdominal pain.
- Heart: heart attack as well as inflammation of the lining of the heart (pericarditis). Congestive heart failure can make breathing difficult, as the fluid builds up behind the heart and into the lungs.
- Skin: rashes, skin nodules and purple, caused by bleeding from damaged capillaries.
It is unknown exactly why many people have this disease because the symptoms can be confused with other forms of vasculitis. A study in Britain showed that polyarteritis nodosa occurs in three or four out of every million people each year in the UK. In the U.S., may occur more often. According to a study conducted in Minnesota, occurs in up to nine out of every 1 million people.
Polyarteritis nodosa can affect people of any race and age, but most commonly affects adults between 40 and 50 years, and also attacks two times more men than women.
Although no known cause of polyarteritis nodosa, some research has been linked to the presence of microscopic groups of antibodies the body’s defense system, foreign proteins as well as portions of a virus. In some people with polyarteritis nodosa, the disease appears to be triggered by a viral liver infection, either hepatitis B or C.
In some patients, researchers have demonstrated at least one autoantibody (an autoimmune protein attacks the body instead of a foreign invader) which seems to be related to arterial damage of polyarteritis nodosa. This autoantibody, called neutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibody was also detected in the blood of patients with other vasculitic disorders. However, most patients with polyarteritis nodosa do not have this antibody in their blood or tissues, and many experts do not believe that this antibody has an important role in this disease.