Ashton Kutcher diagnosed with vasculitis: What you should know about the disease

Ashton Kutcher, in a photo taken in July 2022 (Photo by Steve Granitz/FilmMagic)

On Aug. 8, it was reported that actor Ashton Kutcher couldn't walk, hear, or talk after he was diagnosed with a disease called vasculitis two years ago.

"Like, 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," Kutcher explained, in an interview done for the show Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge. "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.'"

Here's what you should know about the disease that Kutcher was diagnosed with.

What is vasculitis?

According to the Mayo Clinic, vasculitis is an inflammation of blood vessels. 

Officials with the Cleveland Clinic say vasculitis can affect all kinds of blood vessels, including the aorta, or the main blood vessel that leaves the heart.

"When inflamed, the blood vessels may become weakened and stretch in size, which can lead to aneurysms. The vessels also may become so thin that they rupture resulting in bleeding into the tissue," read a portion of the website.

Vasculitis, according to Mayo Clinic officials can cause the walls of blood vessels to thicken, and reduce the width of the passageway through the vessel.

"If blood flow in a vessel with vasculitis is reduced or stopped, the tissues that receive blood from that vessel become injured and begin to die," read a portion of Cleveland Clinic's website.

There are many types of vasculitis, according to the Mayo Clinic, and they include:

  • Behçet's disease
  • Buerger's disease
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome
  • Cryoglobulinemia
  • Giant cell arteritis
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
  • Henoch-Schonlein purpura
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Takayasu's arteritis

Most types of vasculitis, according to Mayo Clinic officials, are rare.

Can I catch vasculitis like someone would the flu or cold?

According to the Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center, vasculitis is not contagious.

"One cannot acquire vasculitis from contact with a vasculitis patient," read a portion of the website.

Cleveland Clinic officials say while the exact cause of vasculitis is unknown, it is clear that the immune system plays a big role in the disease.

"In most cases of vasculitis, something causes an immune or ‘allergic’ reaction in the blood vessel walls. Substances that cause allergic reactions are called antigens. Sometimes certain medicines or illnesses can act as antigens and start this process," read a portion of the website.

Are there risk factors?

Mayo Clinic officials say while vasculitis can affect anyone, the following factors may increase the risk of certain disorders:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Lifestyle choices, such as use of cocaine or tobacco
  • Medications
  • Infections
  • Immune disorders
  • Gender

What are the symptoms?

According to Cleveland Clinic officials, common vasculitis symptoms include:

  • Skin rashes
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Joint pains
  • Abdominal pain
  • Kidney problems (including dark or bloody urine)
  • Nerve problems (including numbness, weakness and pain)
  • Cough and/or shortness of breath

In some cases, according to Mayo Clinic officials, vasculitis can cause bleeding under the skin that shows up as red spots, as well as lumps or open sores on a person's skin.

How does a doctor diagnose someone with vasculitis?

Mayo Clinic officials say a doctor may have a person undergo one or more diagnostic tests and procedures, including blood tests, x-rays of blood vessels, imaging tests or biopsy to diagnose vasculitis, or rule out other conditions that mimic vasculitis.

Cleveland Clinic officials say blood tests can also identify immune complexes or antibodies that can be associated with vasculitis.

What's the treatment for vasculitis?

Cleveland Clinic officials say the precise treatment of vasculitis depends on the type of vasculitis, as well as the areas/organs that are involved.

"Some measures that may be necessary include the use of corticosteroids, such as prednisone," read a portion of the website. "For more serious types of vasculitis, other medications that suppress the immune system are also used."

Cleveland Clinic officials also says there are side effects associated with the use of corticosteroids.

Surgeries, according to Mayo Clinic officials, may be needed in cases where vasculitis causes an aneurysm, or a burger or ballooning of the wall of a blood vessel, as well as in cases of blockage.

"This bulge may need surgery to reduce the risk of it rupturing. Blocked arteries also may require surgical treatment to restore blood flow to the affected area," read a portion of the website.

What is the outlook for a vasculitis patient?

According to the Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center, most forms of vasculitis are treatable if it is detected early enough, before substantial organ damage has occurred.

"Further research is needed in all forms of vasculitis. Greater knowledge of these diseases will lead to better treatments and, some day, to cures," read a portion of the website.

Anyone with concerns over vasculitis should seek proper medical advice from their primary care physician.