Medications that may be used for Treatment of Vasculitis
There is no cure for Vasculitis. Treatment typically focuses on reducing discomfort and preventing serious complications. Corticosteroids and other medications that suppress the immune system may be prescribed to treat these conditions. Vasculitis can be a chronic disease that recurs. However, patients may have periods of time when symptoms go away temporarily (remission). The severity of the disease varies from patient to patient and from the type of Vasculitis that you have.
Although there is no cure for Vasculitis, people usually can control symptoms with proper medication, rest, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. The goal of treatment is to reduce discomfort and prevent serious complications such. The type of medicine and the length of treatment depend on the person’s symptoms and their severity. It is likely that a combination of treatments will be needed to relieve specific symptoms. Patients should tell each of their doctors about all of the medicines they are taking so that the doctors can coordinate treatment.
Please consult your doctor before starting on any medications. These are only guidelines and may not be suitable for each individual or each form of Vasculitis.
Topical medicine is applied directly on the sores to relieve pain and discomfort. For example, doctors prescribe rinses, gels, or ointments. Creams are used to treat skin and genital sores. The medicine usually contains corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation), other anti-inflammatory drugs, or an anesthetic, which relieves pain.
Doctors also prescribe medicines taken by mouth to reduce inflammation throughout the body, suppress the overactive immune system, and relieve symptoms. Doctors may prescribe one or more of the medicines described below to treat the various symptoms. The treatment of any Vasculitis depends on the severity and the location of its manifestations in an individual patient.
Steroid (cortisone) gels, pastes (such as Kenalog in Orabase) and creams can be helpful for the mouth and genital ulcers. Colchicine can also minimize recurrent ulcerations. Mouth and genital ulcers healed and were reported at a national meeting of the American College of Rheumatology as less frequent in 9 or 12 patients who were treated with Trental (Pentoxifylline). Trental also seemed to maintain the healed ulcers for up to the 29 months of the study. The effectiveness of Trental, the researchers said, seemed to be enhanced by the combination with colchicine in some patients.
Joint inflammation can require non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Ibuprofen and others) or oral steroids. Colchicine and oral and injectable cortisone are used for inflammation involving the joints, eyes, skin, and brain. Sulfasalazine has been effective in some patients for arthritis.
- Corticosteroids – Prednisone is a corticosteroid prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body for people with severe joint pain, skin sores, eye disease, or central nervous system symptoms. Patients must carefully follow the doctor’s instructions about when to take prednisone and how much to take. It also is important not to stop taking the medicine suddenly, because the medicine alters the body’s production of the natural corticosteroid hormones. Long-term use of prednisone can have side effects such as osteoporosis (a disease that leads to bone fragility), weight gain, delayed wound healing, persistent heartburn, and elevated blood pressure. However, these side effects are rare when prednisone is taken at low doses for a short time. It is important that patients see their doctor regularly to monitor possible side effects. Corticosteroids are useful in early stages of disease and for acute severe flares. They are of limited use for long-term management of central nervous system and serious eye complications.
- Immunosuppressive drugs – These medicines (in addition to corticosteroids) help control an overactive immune system, which occurs in many vascular diseases, and reduce inflammation throughout the body, and can lessen the number of disease flares. Doctors may use immunosuppressive drugs when a person has eye disease or central nervous system involvement. These medicines are very strong and can have serious side effects. Patients must see their doctor regularly for blood tests to detect and monitor side effects.
Doctors may use one or more of the following drugs depending on the person’s specific symptoms.
- Azathioprine (Imuran) – classified as an immunosuppressant medication. Azathioprine is used to suppress the immune system in patients who have had kidney transplants. Although its exact mechanism of action in Rheumatoid Arthritis is not known, its effect in suppressing the immune system appears to decrease the activity of this illness. Most commonly prescribed for people with organ transplants because it suppresses the immune system, azathioprine is now used for people to treat uveitis and other uncontrolled disease manifestations. This medicine can upset the stomach and may reduce production of new blood cells by the bone marrow.
- Chlorambucil – Doctors may use these drugs to treat uveitis and meningoencephalitis. People taking either agent must see their doctor frequently because either can have serious side effects, such as permanent sterility and cancers of the blood. Patients have regular blood tests to monitor blood counts of white cells and platelets.
- Colchicine – Commonly used to treat gout, which is a form of arthritis, Colchicine reduces inflammation throughout the body. The medicine sometimes is used to treat arthritis, mucous membrane, and skin symptoms in patients. Common side effects of Colchicine include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The doctor can decrease the dose to relieve these side effects.
- Cyclophosphamide – drug that is used primarily for treating several types of cancer. In order to work, cyclophosphamide first is converted by the liver into two chemicals, acrolein and phosphoramide. Acrolein and phosphoramide are the active compounds, and they slow the growth of cancer cells by interfering with the actions of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) within the cancerous cells. It is, therefore, referred to as a cytotoxic drug. Unfortunately, normal cells also are affected, and this results in serious side effects. Cytoxan also suppresses the immune system and is also referred to as immunosuppressive.
- Cyclosporine – Like azathioprine, doctors prescribe this medicine for people with organ transplants. When used by patients with Vasculitis, cyclosporine reduces uveitis and uncontrolled disease in other organs. To reduce the risk of side effects, such as kidney and liver disease, the doctor can adjust the dose. Patients must tell their doctor if they take any other medicines, because some medicines affect the way the body uses cyclosporine.
- Enbrel (Etanetcept) – Etanercept is an injectable drug that blocks tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and is used for treating Rheumatoid Arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis. TNF alpha is a protein that the body produces during the inflammatory response, the body’s reaction to injury. TNF alpha promotes the inflammation and its associated fever and signs (pain, tenderness, and swelling) in several inflammatory conditions including Rheumatoid Arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Etanercept is a synthetic (man-made) protein that binds to TNF alpha. It thereby acts like a sponge to remove most of the TNF alpha molecules from the joints and blood. This prevents TNF alpha from promoting inflammation and the fever, pain, tenderness and swelling of joints in patients with rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Etanercept reduces the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, the arthritis of psoriasis, and ankylosing spondylitis. It prevents the progressive destruction of the joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and the arthritis of psoriasis.
- Interferon – are multiple substances naturally produced by cells in the body to help fight infections and tumors. They may also be synthetic (man-made) versions of these substances. Alpha interferon’s, such as Roferon-A, Intron-A, and Alferon-N, are used to treat hairy cell leukemia, malignant melanoma, and AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. They are also used to treat laryngeal papillomatosis (growths in the respiratory tract) in children, genital warts, and some kinds of hepatitis. Gamma interferon, like Actimmune, is a synthetic (man-made) version of a substance naturally produced by cells in the body to help fight infections and tumors. Gamma interferon is used to treat chronic granulomatous disease and osteoporosis. Interferon beta-1a, like Avonex and Rebif, is used to treat the relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and genital warts. This medicine will not cure MS, but it may slow some disabling effects and decrease the number of relapses of the disease. Interferon beta-1b, such as Betaseron, is also used to treat the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis (MS). Again, this medicine will not cure MS, but may decrease the number of relapses of the disease. There are no generic forms of Interferon available.
- Kenalog (Triamcinolone) – a topical steroid. It reduces or inhibits the actions of chemicals in the body that cause inflammation, redness, and swelling. It is used to treat the inflammation caused by a number of conditions such as allergic reactions, eczema, and psoriasis.
- Methotrexate – Methotrexate is classified as an antimetabolite drug, which means it is capable of blocking the metabolism of cells. It has been found very helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis. It seems to work, in part by altering aspects of immune function which may play a role in causing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Prednisone – is an oral, synthetic (man-made) corticosteroid used for suppressing the immune system and inflammation. It has effects similar to other corticosteroids such as Triamcinolone (Kenacort), Methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisolone (Prelone) and dexamethasone(Decadron). These synthetic corticosteroids mimic the action of cortisol (hydrocortisone), the naturally-occurring corticosteroid produced in the body by the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids have many effects on the body, but they most often are used for their potent anti-inflammatory effects, particularly in those conditions in which the immune system plays an important role. Such conditions include arthritis, colitis, asthma, bronchitis, certain skin rashes, and allergic or inflammatory conditions of the nose and eyes. Prednisone is inactive in the body and, in order to be effective, first must be converted to prednisolone by enzymes in the liver. Therefore, prednisone may not work as effectively in people with liver disease whose ability to convert prednisone to prednisolone is impaired.
- Remicade (Infliximab) – Infliximab is an injectable antibody that blocks the effects of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). By blocking the action of TNF-alpha, infliximab reduces the signs and symptoms of inflammation. This medication is administered via an IV-infusion.
- Sulfasalazine – a pro-drug, that is, it is not active in its ingested form. It is broken down by bacteria in the colon into two products: 5-aminosalicylic acid (5ASA), and sulfapyridine. There is some controversy as to which of these two products are responsible for the activity of azulfidine. Whereas it is known that 5ASA has therapeutic benefit, it is not clear whether sulfapyridine adds any further benefit. In the colon, the products created by the breakdown of sulfasalazine work as anti-inflammatory agents for treating inflammation of the colon. The beneficial effect of sulfasalazine is believed to be due to a local effect on the bowel, although there may also be a beneficial systemic immune-suppressant effect as well. Following oral administration, 33% of the sulfasalazine is absorbed, all of the sulfapyridine is absorbed, and about 33% of the 5ASA is absorbed. Sulfasalazine was approved by the FDA in 1950.
- CellCept – contains the active ingredient mycophenolate mofetil. Cellcept belongs to a group of medicines called immunosuppressants. Immunosuppressants are used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, and work by stopping your immune system from reacting to the transplanted organ. Cellcept may be used together with other medicines known as cyclosporin and corticosteroids.
- Thalidomide – Thalidomide is an oral medication used for treating the skin conditions of leprosy, a disease caused by a parasite, Mycobacterium leprae. The mechanism of action of thalidomide is not well understood. The immune system reaction to Mycobacterium leprae plays an important role in producing the skin manifestations of leprosy. Scientists believe that thalidomide modifies the reaction of the immune system to Mycobacterium leprae and thereby suppresses the skin reaction. Thalidomide also is being evaluated as a treatment for HIV. Thalidomide was approved by the FDA in July, 1998.
- Trental (Pentoxifylline) – decreases the “stickiness” (viscosity) of blood and thereby improves its flow. This increase blood flow helps patients with peripheral arterial disease to obtain better circulation and oxygen delivery to vital tissues. Pentoxifylline is used in patients to treat a condition of painful legs that develop with exercise because of inadequate circulation to the legs and feet.
- Combination Treatment – Cyclosporine is sometimes used together with azathioprine when one medication fails to work by itself. A common combination is prednisone along with an immunosuppressive drug.
Rest and Excersise
- Although rest is important during flares, doctors usually recommend moderate exercise, such as swimming or walking, when the symptoms have improved or disappeared. Exercise can help people with many forms of Vasculitis keep their joints strong and flexible.