Necrotizing vasculitis occurs as a primary phenomenon in connective tissue disorders and cognate fields, including polyarteritis nodosa and the Churg and Strauss syndrome variant, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus and Wegener's granulomatosis. In all these conditions focal and multifocal neuropathy occur as a consequence of destruction of the arterial wall and occlusion of the lumen of small epineurial arteries. Vasculitis may also complicate the course of other conditions ranging from infection with the HIV and with the B and C hepatitis viruses to diabetes and sarcoidosis. Pathologically polymorphonuclear cells are present in the infiltrates of the vessel wall in primary necrotizing vasculitis, while in secondary vasculitis the inflammatory infiltrate is mainly composed of mononuclear cells. In all instances symptomatic vasculitis requires corticosteroid to control the inflammatory process and prevent further ischemic nerve lesions.
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Polyarteritis nodosa is one of the earliest forms of systemic vasculitis described. It is characterized by segmental necrotizing arterial lesions affecting medium-sized and small-sized arteries. Active necrotizing lesions are frequently associated with chronic reparative lesions. Current convention would exclude patients with necrotizing glomerular lesions from this category. An aneurysm may form when the arterial wall is sufficiently weakened by the necrotizing process. Any organ may be affected; however, pulmonary involvement is very uncommon. Significant potential exists for end organ injury resulting from ischemia, infarcts, and hemorrhage. A variety of other primary systemic vasculitidies, secondary forms, such as connective tissue disease associated, and organ limited forms, have been identified that may exhibit similar arterial lesions including aneurysm formation. Establishing a definitive diagnosis of polyarteritis nodosa is therefore challenging, and mandates dialogue between the pathologist and the clinician primed with pertinent clinical and laboratory data. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment with cytotoxic agents, the prognosis of polyarteritis nodosa has substantially improved.
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