Microscopic polyangiitis is a systemic pauci-immune necrotizing vasculitis that affects mainly small vessels. It may begin as a pulmonary-renal syndrome with rapidly progressing glomerulonephritis and alveolar hemorrhage, but the pattern of disease depends on the organs affected. Diagnosis is by biopsy. Treatment, which depends on disease severity, includes corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
Microscopic polyangiitis is rare (about 13 to 19 cases/million). Pathogenesis is unknown. Like immune complex–associated vasculitis (eg, SLE, cryoglobulinemia, serum sickness, Henoch-Schönlein purpura), microscopic polyangiitis affects small vessels. Polyarteritis nodosa can cause some manifestations similar to the small vessel vasculitides, such as mononeuritis multiplex and bowel ischemia. Microscopic polyangiitis can be distinguished from immune complex–associated vasculitis and polyarteritis nodosa by the following:
Clinical manifestations resemble those of Wegener's granulomatosis except that granulomatous destructive lesions are absent and the upper respiratory tract is usually not severely affected. In both disorders, antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies (ANCA) may be present. Microscopic polyangiitis can occur in patients with viral hepatitis B or C.
Symptoms and Signs
Usually, a prodromal illness with systemic symptoms of fever, weight loss, myalgia, and arthralgia occurs. Other symptoms depend on which organs and systems are affected:
Microscopic polyangiitis may mimic many other disorders because its manifestations vary. The disorder should be suspected in patients who have unexplained combinations of GI symptoms or signs, alveolar hemorrhage, episcleritis, and peripheral neuropathy. Laboratory tests and sometimes x-rays are done, but the diagnosis is usually confirmed by biopsy.
Tests include CBC, ESR, C-reactive protein, urinalysis, serum creatinine, and tests for ANCA. ESR, C-reactive protein levels, and WBC and platelet counts are elevated, reflecting systemic inflammation. Anemia of chronic disease is common. An acute drop in Hct suggests alveolar hemorrhage or hemorrhage in the GI tract. Urinalysis (to check for hematuria, proteinuria, and cellular casts) should be done, and serum creatinine should be measured periodically to check for renal involvement.
Immunofluorescence staining can detect ANCA; this test is followed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to check for specific antibodies. At least 60% of patients have ANCA, usually perinuclear ANCA (p-ANCA) with antibodies against myeloperoxidase.
Biopsy of the most accessible involved tissue should be done to confirm vasculitis. Renal biopsy may detect focal segmental pauci-immune necrotizing glomerulonephritis with fibrinoid necrosis of the glomerular capillary wall, leading to formation of cellular crescents.
In patients with respiratory symptoms, chest x-ray is done to check for infiltrates. Bilateral patchy infiltrates suggest alveolar hemorrhage even in patients without hemoptysis.
If patients have dyspnea and bilateral infiltrates, bronchoscopy should be done immediately to check for alveolar hemorrhages. Blood coming from both lungs and all bronchi, with more blood coming as the bronchoscope goes deeper in the airways, indicates active alveolar hemorrhage. Hemosiderin-laden macrophages appear within 24 to 72 h after onset of hemorrhage and may persist for up to 2 mo.
Treatment is similar to that of Wegener's granulomatosis. Cyclophosphamide given daily plus corticosteroids improves survival when vital organs are affected. However, induction and maintenance regimens vary, and adjunctive therapies such as plasma exchange and pulse IV methylprednisolone may or may not be used.
Less severe cases may be managed with corticosteroids plus azathioprine or methotrexate.
Last full review/revision May 2008 by Carmen E. Gota, MD
Content last modified February 2012