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Cutaneous Vasculitis Update: Diagnostic Criteria, Classification, Epidemiology, Etiology, Pathogenesis, Evaluation and Prognosis

Carlson, J Andrew MD, FRPC*; Ng, Bernard T MD; Chen, Ko-Ron MD, PhD

The American Journal of Dermatopathology: December 2005 - Volume 27 - Issue 6 - p 504-528
doi: 10.1097/
Critical Review

Vasculitis, inflammation of the vessel wall, can result in mural destruction with hemorrhage, aneurysm formation, and infarction, or intimal-medial hyperplasia and subsequent stenosis leading to tissue ischemia. The skin, in part due to its large vascular bed, exposure to cold temperatures, and frequent presence of stasis, is involved in many distinct as well as un-named vasculitic syndromes that vary from localized and self-limited to generalized and life-threatening with multi-organ disease. To exclude mimics of vasculitis, diagnosis of cutaneous vasculitis requires biopsy confirmation where its acute signs (fibrinoid necrosis), chronic signs (endarteritis obliterans), or past signs (acellular scar of healed arteritis) must be recognized and presence of extravascular findings such as patterned fibrosis or collagenolytic granulomas noted. Although vasculitis can be classified by etiology, many cases have no identifiable cause, and a single etiologic agent can elicit several distinct clinicopathologic expressions of vasculitis. Therefore, the classification of cutaneous vasculitis is best approached morphologically by determining vessel size and principal inflammatory response. These histologic patterns roughly correlate with pathogenic mechanisms that, when coupled with direct immunofluorescent examination, anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA) status, and findings from work-up for systemic disease, allow for specific diagnosis, and ultimately, more effective therapy. Herein, we review cutaneous vasculitis focusing on diagnostic criteria, classification, epidemiology, etiology, pathogenesis, and evaluation of the cutaneous vasculitis patient.

From the *Divisions of Dermatology and Dermatopathology, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York; †Department of Dermatology, Saiseikai Central Hospital, Tokyo, Japan; and ‡Department of Pathology, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York.

Reprints: J. Andrew Carlson, Divisions of Dermatology and Dermatopathology, Albany Medical College MC-81, Albany, NY 12208 (e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.