Collagen Vascular Disease

Collagen vascular disease refers to a group of conditions that cause chronic inflammation in your connective tissues. Many of these diseases are also autoimmune diseases. Rarely, you may have a genetic collagen vascular disease. There’s no cure for these diseases, but treatment can help manage symptoms.


What is collagen vascular disease?

Collagen vascular disease refers to a group of conditions that cause chronic (long-lasting) inflammation in your connective tissues. Connective tissues hold your bones, muscles and ligaments together. Collagen is one type of connective tissue that provides structure for your skin, bones and joints.

Another name for collagen vascular disease is connective tissue disease. The most common types of collagen vascular diseases are autoimmune diseases. These diseases cause your immune system to mistakenly target healthy tissues, causing inflammation.

What are the types of collagen vascular disease?

Many collagen vascular diseases are autoimmune diseases, such as:

You may also have a genetic collagen vascular disease. Genetic disorders occur because of mutations (changes) in specific genes. Examples of genetic collagen vascular diseases include:

What is mixed collagen vascular disease?

Mixed collagen vascular disease is when you have symptoms of multiple types of collagen vascular diseases. Symptoms may be intermittent (they come and go) over several years. Mixed collagen vascular disease may cause:

Who might get collagen vascular disease?

Anyone can get collagen vascular disease. Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) may be more likely to have certain types of collagen vascular disease, such as lupus, RA or scleroderma. Collagen vascular diseases are also more likely to develop during your 30s or 40s.


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes collagen vascular disease?

Experts don’t know what causes autoimmune collagen vascular diseases. Some researchers think they may develop because certain bacteria, viruses or drugs lead to changes in your immune system. Some autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, tend to run in families.

Inherited collagen vascular diseases occur because of gene mutations. You may inherit the gene mutation from one or both of your parents. Or it may happen for no known reason.

What are the symptoms of collagen vascular disease?

Collagen vascular disease symptoms can vary depending on what specific condition you have. In general, many collagen vascular diseases cause symptoms such as:

Some collagen vascular diseases may also increase your vulnerability to ultraviolet (UV) light. For example, in people with lupus, sun damage or a sunburn can lead to severe, blistered rashes similar to an allergic reaction.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is collagen vascular disease diagnosed?

To diagnose collagen vascular disease, your provider discusses your symptoms. They physically examine you for signs of connective tissue problems. They may examine your skin, joints or muscles.

You may also have tests during a collagen vascular disease diagnosis, such as:

  • Imaging tests, such as CT scans or X-rays, to look at your bones or organs.
  • Urinalysis to test your urine for signs of an infection or to look for certain proteins.
  • Blood test to assess your hormone levels and rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.
  • Echocardiogram to check your heart function and blood flow through your heart.
  • Biopsy to examine a small sample of your connective tissue under a microscope.

Management and Treatment

How is collagen vascular disease treated?

There’s no cure for collagen vascular diseases. But you may manage symptoms with treatment. Common treatments for connective tissue diseases include:

  • Corticosteroids, medicines to reduce inflammation and stabilize your immune system.
  • Immunosuppressants, medicines that safely lower your immune system so it stops attacking healthy tissues.
  • Physical therapy to increase strength and range of motion and decrease muscle or joint pain.

Do I need surgery for connective tissue disease?

Most people don’t need surgery to treat a connective tissue disease. If you have a condition that has caused severe joint damage, your provider may recommend joint replacement surgery. This treatment is more common in people with certain connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.


How can I prevent collagen vascular disease?

There’s no way to prevent collagen vascular disease. Because collagen vascular diseases cause chronic inflammation, you may take measures to reduce inflammation, such as:

  • Eating anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) for your age, sex and body type.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have collagen vascular disease?

Collagen vascular diseases are lifelong conditions. But you can take many steps at home to reduce symptoms or complications. You may:

  • Avoid sun damage by wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF every day.
  • Decrease your overall sun exposure. Stay in the shade, wear protective clothing and remain indoors during the sun’s peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Eat a nutritious diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly, incorporating both resistance training and aerobic exercise.
  • Reduce stress with healthy management tools, such as talk therapy, journaling or meditation.

Living With

What else should I ask my doctor?

You may also want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What are some signs that I could have a collagen vascular disease?
  • Am I at risk of developing collagen vascular disease?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to reduce collagen vascular disease symptoms?

Additional Common Questions

How does collagen vascular disease affect my blood vessels?

Some collagen vascular diseases, such as RA, can cause inflammation in your blood vessels (vasculitis). Inflammation can lead to narrow blood vessels and restrict blood flow.

Without treatment, restricted blood flow can lead to heart and organ problems. If you have a type of collagen vascular disease that causes blood vessel narrowing, your provider can give you treatments to decrease inflammation and improve blood flow.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Collagen vascular diseases are conditions that cause chronic inflammation. Many autoimmune diseases are collagen vascular diseases. Some rare types of collagen vascular diseases are genetic. Collagen vascular diseases may cause fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain or skin rashes. There’s no cure for collagen vascular diseases. Your provider can offer treatment options to lessen symptoms.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/26/2022.

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