- Vasculitis is a rare blood vessel disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels.
- Experts say the condition can have serious, even fatal, consequences if not treated properly.
- Actor Ashton Kutcher said the disease left him unable to see, hear, and walk for about a year.
Actor Ashton Kutcher has gone public with his battle with vasculitis, a rare blood vessel disease that he said left him unable to see, hear, and walk.
On an episode of National Geographic’s show “Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge,” Kutcher said he’s “lucky to be alive.”
Kutcher said on the program that “Two years ago, I had this weird, super rare form of vasculitis that, like, knocked out my vision. It knocked out my hearing. It knocked out, like, all my equilibrium.”
The 44-year-old actor said it took him about a year to regain those abilities.
“You don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone, until you go, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to see again, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to hear again, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to walk again,’” Kutcher said.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,
“Swelling in the blood vessels can lead to serious problems, including organ damage and aneurysms, a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel,” the institute said.
There are multiple types of vasculitis, which affect any blood vessels in the body. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, fatigue, pain, and rash.
Drugs can help treat the problem, as the goal is usually reducing the accompanying inflammation, according to the institute. “Treatment can push vasculitis into remission.”
“Vasculitis is an autoimmune condition where your body mistakenly attacks your own blood vessels in addition to other things. This results in loss of blood flow to important areas of your body as these arteries are damaged,” Dr. Bing Shue, a vascular surgeon with Connecticut-based The Vascular Experts, told Healthline.
“Loss of vision can be a very serious complication of giant cell arteritis, or GCA,” Shue said. “This is the most common vasculitis that affects people over the age of 65 and can result in permanent blindness. Many patients develop muscle cramps and severe exhaustion that can lead to loss of walking ability. Many forms of vasculitis also cause inflammation in the ear that can cause hearing loss and vertigo.”
Shue added vasculitis can be controlled if diagnosed appropriately and treated.
“It can be put into remission after initial treatments and your immunologist can monitor for remission long term,” Shue said. “We perform procedures to diagnose vasculitis and treat damaged blood vessels that result from vasculitis. If untreated it can lead to fatal complications like stroke or loss of kidney function.”
“There are many different causes,” he added. “Genetic predisposition is common and diseases can run in the family. Certain vasculitis are more prevalent in certain age ranges… We have been seeing more cases of vasculitis but much of this is likely better awareness and diagnosis of these conditions. In the past vasculitis has been notorious for being difficult to diagnose resulting in delayed treatment.”
Dr. Robert Koval, a rheumatologist with Texas Orthopedics, told Healthline it’s not clear what type of vasculitis Kutcher has.
“However, vision/hearing loss and coordination difficulties are certainly possible, although rare,” Koval said. “Vasculitis can present in many different ways, including neurologic complaints, bleeding, rash, or organ failure. Oftentimes fevers, constitutional symptoms, and inflammation in multiple organ systems occur. Lab values, skin or tissue biopsies, and imaging can all be helpful in diagnosing these conditions.”
“In its most severe forms, vasculitis can be fatal,” Koval said. “However, there are much improved therapies to treat vasculitis these days that usually can result in remission, or at least minimal symptoms.”
Ana Codallo, the chief technology officer of healthcare research website Key Opinion Leaders, told Healthline, that the symptoms of vasculitis are wide-ranging.
“There are digestive issues where you might experience pain after eating, and dizziness which affects your hearing as well as weakness in your hands and feet,” Codallo said. “I would always suggest you seek medical advice if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed as well as any other symptoms as it is always in your best interest to seek medical opinions. This will help you get the relevant help as soon as possible and it will also prevent you from excess worrying for no reason.
“If you are diagnosed with vasculitis, you will be given a corticosteroid drug to control the inflammation, but there are occasions where you might need surgery to unblock arteries,” she added. “Vasculitis cannot be cured, but it can be managed well and it is no longer considered a fatal illness.”