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University of Minnesota Health providers roll out new vasculitis program

The program is the second of its kind in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Prabhu Deepak Udayakumar, MD, is leading the University of Minnesota Medical Center’s new vasculitis treatment program.

Brain, lungs, kidneys, bowels, eyes and limbs.

All of these organs or systems could be damaged by vasculitis, a group of possibly life-threatening disorders that develop when a person’s immune system begins attacking the body’s blood vessels.

Which is why vasculitis patients need responsive, multi-disciplinary care from the onset and initial diagnosis of their condition.

Enter the newly-developed vasculitis program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Led by University of Minnesota Health Rheumatologist Prabhu Deepak Udayakumar, MD, the program is tailored to accommodate the wide-ranging needs of vasculitis patients.

The program, which opened in 2014, is only the second of its kind in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, Udayakumar said. The program is staffed by medical professionals and nurses with experience treating vasculitis. It offers a convenient treatment location for vasculitis sufferers in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. 

Vasculitis can damage blood vessels, causing them to inflame and become constricted, or balloon outward and form aneurysms. Impairments to blood flow can damage organs and other bodily systems.

Since vasculitides (the plural of vasculitis) can potentially affect any organ, the vasculitis clinic works in collaboration with experts from other specialties who have experience and special interest in treating patients with these conditions. Pulmonologists; nephrologists; ophthalmologists; otolaryngologists; vascular medicine specialists and others all collaborate with the vasculitis program.

Sometimes, patients may need to be hospitalized to expedite the evaluation and treatment depending on the severity and urgency of their disease.

“Vasculitides need to be very promptly diagnosed and treated,” Udayakumar said. “These disorders are rare enough that patients usually need in-depth evaluation and care in a center with experience treating these disorders.”

Vasculitides are chronic conditions, and for that reason, Udayakumar’s program also focuses on long-term care by maintaining the disease under control after reaching remission. Treatment may include medications that act at the immune system level, monitoring with lab work and imaging and follow-up appointments.

“In my opinion, treating just the bodily disorder is not good enough. My goal is for the patient to reach a point of wellness in body, mind and spirit,” Udayakumar said. Udayakumar is also willing to implement alternative treatments as a complement to modern medicine if evidence is available and the alternative treatment is considered safe for the patient.

If the patient lives outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Udayakumar and the program staff will work closely with the patient’s local rheumatologist for ongoing services.