I was sad to learn of the death of Harold Ramis, whose classic comedy films like "Vacation" and "Caddyshack" produced so many quotable moments.  My personal favorite was "Groundhog Day."  Unfortunately, Harold Ramis died today of, his agent informed us, "Autoimmune Inflammatory Vasculitis."

You won't find this exact term in a medical dictionary.  Vasculitis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body attacks itself, causing inflammation ('-itis') in the blood vessels ('Vascu-').  Saying "autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis" is like saying "respiratory infective pneumonia."   It's a bit redundant, but talent agents are not medically trained, so Mr Ramis' agent gets a pass.  The important point is that vasculitis affects the blood vessels throughout the body, and it is difficult to treat.  There are many types and many causes, but usually the disease is related to a "confused" immune system that attacks the lining of the arteries and veins.  This can cause pain, and it always leads to inflammation and narrowing of the vessels.  As the vessels narrow and blood flow to critical organs is interrupted, consequences such as lung disease, kidney disease, and stroke can occur.

Treatment is often limited to medications that blunt the body's immune system, in an attempt to reduce the attacks on the blood vessels.  These medicines can be toxic and cause serious side effects.  Harold Ramis probably suffered from this disease, and its treatment, for a long time.  Thankfully, he still found a way to make us laugh through his pain.

For more detailed information on vasculitis, and how to recognize its signs, visit rheumatology.org

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