How Churg-Strauss Syndrome Affects Organs

Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on September 24, 2022
3 min read

Churg-Strauss syndrome is a rare disease that causes inflammation of small and medium-sized blood vessels. This inflammation can slow the flow of blood to your organs.

Another name for Churg-Strauss syndrome is eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA). If you have it, you may have high numbers of white blood cells called eosinophils, which normally help your immune system fight germs. But in this case, eosinophils collect and form lumps called granulomas in different parts of your body.

Which organs Churg-Strauss syndrome affects may be different for each person.

Swelling in the blood vessels of the heart is called vasculitis. Sometimes granulomas form inside the heart, which can lead to a few different types of heart problems.

The membrane around the heart (pericardium) may swell, a problem known as pericarditis. The pericardium protects your heart and prevents it from expanding too much. Pericarditis affects the heart's rhythm and how well it works. Sometimes it can cause serious problems with the heart.

The muscular wall around the heart itself can also swell. When the heart swells, it may not be able to pump as well as it should. Sometimes it pumps too quickly or out of its normal rhythm.

Some people with Churg-Strauss syndrome can have a heart attack from a blockage in blood flow to their heart.

Your heart muscle needs a steady flow of blood to work right. The heart may get so damaged that it can't pump well enough to send out enough blood to meet your body's needs. This is called heart failure.

The lungs are one of the most common organs this disease affects. Almost everyone with Churg-Strauss syndrome has asthma -- a swelling of the airways in their lungs. The swelling narrows the airways and makes it hard to breathe. Asthma also causes symptoms like wheezing and coughing.

The type of asthma people with Churg-Strauss syndrome get is eosinophilic asthma. It's a more severe form that happens when the extra eosinophils that your body makes build up in the lungs and cause them to swell.

Your kidneys filter waste out of your blood to make urine. Tiny clusters of blood vessels called glomeruli filter the blood as it flows through the kidneys.

When you have Churg-Strauss syndrome for a long time, it can damage these tiny filters, leading to a condition called glomerulonephritis.

Damaged kidneys can't remove as much waste and fluids, which then build up in your blood. Rarely, the kidneys can fail completely and stop filtering.

Churg-Strauss syndrome can cause swelling in the spaces behind your nose, called sinusitis. You may notice pain around your eyes and cheeks, a stuffed nose, and thick discharge from your nose.

Some people have polyps -- painless growths inside the nose. Polyps aren't dangerous, but they can eventually block your nasal passages and make it hard for you to breathe.

Up to half of people with Churg-Strauss syndrome have problems with their digestive tract. You might get colitis, which is inflammation in the inner lining of the colon -- the bottom part of the large intestine. Belly pain is one possible symptom.

Churg-Strauss syndrome affects the skin in about two out of every three people who have it. Eosinophils normally help your body fight infections, but when you have too many of them, they can build up in the blood vessels under your skin.

Sometimes the blood vessels leak blood, which forms purple-colored spots called purpura on your skin. Some people get a rash. Others have bumps on their elbows or other places. Sores may form on the skin. When those sores heal, they can leave behind scars.

Inflammation also damages nerves. Because nerves deliver feeling to your body, damage to them can cause numbness, pain, tingling, or burning, especially in your hands and feet.