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What Is It?

Takayasu's arteritis is a chronic (long-term) disease in which arteries become inflamed. It is also known as Takayasu's aortitis, pulseless disease and aortic arch syndrome. The name comes from the doctor who first reported the problem in 1905, Dr. Mikito Takayasu.

In most cases, Takayasu's arteritis targets the aorta and its major branches, including arteries to the brain, arms and kidneys. The aorta is the body's main artery, which pumps oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Less frequently, the pulmonary artery and coronary arteries also are involved. This problem causes damage to the body's major organs; reduced or absent pulses in the arms and legs; and symptoms of poor circulation, such as a cool or cold arm or leg, muscle pains with use or exertion, or symptoms of stroke if brain arteries are narrowed or blocked. Over time, Takayasu's arteritis can cause scarring, narrowing and abnormal ballooning of involved blood vessels. The disease can be fatal.

Although the cause of Takayasu's arteritis is unknown, it may be an autoimmune disorder, meaning that immune defenses attack the body's own cells rather than protecting them from outside invaders.

In Asia, Takayasu's arteritis is a major cause of high blood pressure in teenagers and young adults. In North America and Europe, however, Takayasu's arteritis is a very rare illness that affects only 2 or 3 of every 1 million people every year. It is 8 times more common in females than in males. Although 75 percent of people begin to have symptoms during their teenage years, the average age at which the problem is diagnosed is usually much later at age 29. This is because early symptoms of Takayasu's arteritis are more general and common, such as fatigue. Up to 96 percent of people are not diagnosed until they have later, more specific symptoms.

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