When vasculitis affects the skin, it can cause red or purple spots to develop. It may also cause ulcers or blisters. A vasculitis rash can become painful or itchy.

Vasculitis is an inflammation and destruction of blood vessels. Doctors associate vasculitis with infections, medications, and autoimmune conditions. In some cases, the cause of vasculitis is unknown.

People with vasculitis experience blood vessel inflammation. In autoimmune conditions, the autoimmune system mistakenly attacks blood vessels. Certain infections or medications may also trigger a case of vasculitis, but the cause of this disease frequently remains unknown.

This article explores how vasculitis affects the skin and what to know about a vasculitis rash. Read on to learn more about skin vasculitis symptoms and available treatment options.

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The appearance of a vasculitis rash depends on the type of skin vasculitis.

The condition may cause red or purple spots on the skin. These spots may be flat or raised. Skin vasculitis can also lead to ulcers or blisters.

Immune complex vasculitis rash

Immune complex vasculitis generally affects small blood vessels in the lower limbs. People with this condition often have purpura, a rash consisting of purple spots. This rash occurs when small blood vessels begin to leak blood under the skin.

Rashes from immune complex vasculitis may also appear red and bumpy. They may begin on a small area of the body, such as the ankles, and then spread to other areas, such as the abdomen and hands.

Cutaneous small-vessel vasculitis rash

Formerly known as hypersensitivity vasculitis, this rash occurs when people react negatively to medications, infections, or other substances. It is most common in people over 16 years and does not usually occur in children.

The rash from hypersensitivity vasculitis may have brownish-red or purple spots that spread extensively. People with this condition may also develop sores, blisters, and hives.

Immunoglobulin A (IgA) vasculitis rash

In IgA vasculitis, the antibody IgA aggregates in small blood vessels. This causes these vessels to become inflamed and begin leaking blood.

People with IgA vasculitis may develop a red or purple rash that can resemble bruises or little dots. This rash typically begins in the lower regions of the body but can spread to other areas over time.

Anyone experiencing a new, unexplained rash should consult a medical professional. Only a doctor can diagnose vasculitis and provide an individualized treatment plan.

In most cases, vasculitis rash will disappear within a few weeks or months. Around 1 in 10 people with skin vasculitis will experience a recurrence of this condition. Their rash may return after a few months or years.

Treatment for skin vasculitis is generally effective, and symptoms tend to subside within a few weeks or months.

Anyone with skin vasculitis should speak with a doctor to learn more about what to expect from treatment in their unique case.

The treatment for vasculitis depends on the type of vasculitis and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Doctors generally recommend bed rest and elevating affected areas to reduce swelling. They may also prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as ibuprofen to help with the pain.

Some people may not require any prescription medication to treat their vasculitis. Their condition may resolve fully after taking medications such as antihistamines or ibuprofen.

In more advanced cases, treatment may include the following:

  • steroids
  • immunosuppressant medications
  • anti-inflammatory drugs

Certain drugs that treat arthritis symptoms can also help with skin vasculitis. One medication, etanercept (Enbrel), helps reduce inflammation and joint swelling. This can improve the symptoms of skin vasculitis.

The drug colchicine can also help reduce vasculitis discomfort. This works by reducing inflammation throughout the body.

Returning to mild exercise as soon as vasculitis symptoms permit is important during vasculitis recovery. Gentle exercise can increase joint strength and flexibility during the healing process.

People with symptoms of skin vasculitis should consult a doctor for a complete evaluation. Symptoms may include:

  • a skin rash with a red, purple, or brownish tint
  • blisters
  • sores across the lower body
  • hives

The rashes resulting from vasculitis may cause burning sensations and pain. Some people with vasculitis also experience joint pain.

In some cases, skin vasculitis may lead to serious health complications. If vasculitis spreads to the kidneys, it could ultimately lead to kidney failure. Vasculitis can also cause complications in the eyes and lungs.

Beyond internal complications, a vasculitis rash can permanently damage blood vessels. Skin affected by this rash can also experience scarring.

It is often difficult to diagnose vasculitis with symptoms alone. Doctors usually perform a skin biopsy to help confirm the diagnosis.

Vasculitis can result from an autoimmune condition, infections, or medications. Vasculitis involves inflammation and destruction of blood vessels.

The appearance of a vasculitis rash can vary from person to person and the type of vasculitis. Rashes may appear brown, red, or purple. Skin affected by vasculitis can also develop blisters, hives, or sores.

Milder cases of vasculitis rash may respond fully to OTC medications. More serious cases may require steroids or immunosuppressants. People should speak with a doctor to learn more about treating and recovering from skin vasculitis.