What is vasculitis? Ashton Kutcher's autoimmune disease explained

Watch: Ashton Kutcher 'lucky to be alive' after battling rare health condition

American actor Ashton Kutcher has revealed he's battled vasculitis, a serious autoimmune disease that affected his hearing, sight and ability to walk for more than a year.

"Like two years ago, I had this weird, super-rare form of vasculitis," Kutcher says in an upcoming episode of National Geographic's Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge. “It knocked out my vision, knocked out my hearing, knocked out like all my equilibrium. It took me like a year to like build it all back up.”

Read more: Ashton Kutcher lost vision, hearing and ability to walk after rare autoimmune diagnosis

Taking to Twitter, Kutcher cleared the air about his current vasculitis status, revealing that he is now fully recovered.

“Yes, I had a rare vasculitis episode 3yrs ago. (Autoimmune flair up) I had some impairments hear, vision, balance issues right after. I fully recovered. All good.Moving on [sic],” he said to his 17.1 million followers.

But what is vasculitis? From symptoms to treatment, here’s what you need to know about the autoimmune disease.

Ashton Kutcher revealed he had battled with a 'super rare-form' of vasculitis. (Getty Images)
Ashton Kutcher revealed he had battled with a 'super rare-form' of vasculitis. (Getty Images)

What is vasculitis?

According to the NHS, vasculitis means ‘inflammation of the blood vessels.’

The immune system attacks healthy blood vessels, causing them to become swollen and narrow, which can lead to blood flow being restricted and organ and tissue damage.

There are also several kinds of vasculitis, which can range from a minor problem that just affects the skin, to a more serious illness that causes problems with organs like the heart or kidneys.

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And the condition can be temporary or long lasting, depending on the type of vasculitis and other individual health considerations.

What are the types of vasculitis?

There are many types of vasculitis – most of them rare, and they may vary greatly in symptoms, severity and duration. The NHS states that the types include:

  • Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Churg-Strauss syndrome)

  • Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)

  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener's granulomatosis)

  • Henoch-Schönlein purpura

  • Kawasaki disease

  • Microscopic polyangiitis

  • Polyarteritis nodosa

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica

  • Takayasu arteritis

  • Behçet's disease

  • Buerger's disease

  • Cogan's syndrome

  • Cryoglobulin-associated vasculitis

  • Hypersensitivity vasculitis

  • Primary angiitis of the central nervous system

  • Rheumatoid vasculitis

What are the symptoms?

Vasculitis is hard to predict. The autoimmune disorder can affect anyone – though some types are more common among certain age groups, and it might affect just one organ, or several.

Signs to watch: some people with vasculitis develop skin rashes. (Getty Images)
Signs to watch: some people with vasculitis develop skin rashes. (Getty Images)

According to Vasculitis UK, the general signs and symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes or ulcers

  • Fatigue

  • Weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fever

  • Joint pains or swelling

  • Abdominal pain

  • Kidney problems (including dark or bloody urine)

  • Nerve problems (including numbness, weakness and pain)

  • Cough and/or shortness of breath

  • Painful, dry eyes or changes in vision

Other symptoms such as skin rashes and nodules (lump or mass of tissue) can also occur if the blood vessels break or are close to the skin’s surface.

What causes vasculitis?

Every case of vasculitis is different. Genetic factors appear to be important in the disease, but some cases may be triggered by an infection or a medicine, and majority of the time, the cause is unknown.

How is vasculitis treated?

It is crucial to obtain a diagnosis of vasculitis as early as possible to enable appropriate treatment, says Vasculitis UK.

Making the right diagnosis depends on the patient’s symptoms, what the doctor finds when examining the patient and often a combination of blood tests, x-rays (or other scans such as MRI and PET) and sometimes, a biopsy (taking a small piece of tissue) from an affected area.

According to the NHS, how vasculitis is treated all depends on the kind of vasculitis a person is experiencing. Whilst some forms of vasculitis require no treatment, some people may be given steroid medicine or medications that suppress the immune system, and others with vasculitis may require surgery, including if arteries become blocked.