Diagnosis and classification of polyarteritis nodosa

J Autoimmun. 2014 Feb-Mar:48-49:84-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2014.01.029. Epub 2014 Jan 28.


Polyarteritis nodosa (PAN) is a systemic necrotizing vasculitis preferentially targeting medium-sized arteries and not associated with glomerulonephritis or small vessel involvement. Anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies are typically negative. PAN may be triggered by viral infections, particularly hepatitis B virus, but remains idiopathic in most cases. Clinical manifestations of PAN are multisystemic. Peripheral nerve and skin are the most frequently affected tissues. Involvement of the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system is associated with higher mortality. Laboratory abnormalities reveal a prominent acute phase response but are non-specific. Histologic confirmation of vasculitis in medium sized arteries is desirable and biopsies must be obtained from symptomatic organs if feasible. Skin or muscle and nerve are preferred because of higher diagnostic yield and safety. If biopsies are negative or cannot be obtained, visceral angiography, may reveal multiple micro-aneurysms supporting the diagnosis of PAN. Current treatment policy includes high-dose corticosteroids, which are combined with immunosuppressive agents when critical organ involvement or life-threatening complications occur. IV pulse cyclophosphamide in the remission induction phase, later switched to a safer immunosuppressant for remission maintenance is a frequently used therapeutic approach. A recent consensus algorithm for the classification of PAN has attempted to overcome some of the caveats of the 1990 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) classification criteria which have proven to be unsatisfactory, and has also confirmed the low prevalence of PAN compared to other systemic necrotizing vasculitides. European league against rheumatic diseases (EULAR)/ACR endorsed international cooperation to establish new diagnostic/classification criteria is currently under way.

Keywords: Classification; Polyarteritis nodosa; Treatment; Vasculitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • International Cooperation
  • Necrosis / pathology
  • Polyarteritis Nodosa / classification*
  • Polyarteritis Nodosa / diagnosis*
  • Polyarteritis Nodosa / drug therapy
  • Societies, Medical


  • Immunosuppressive Agents