What is sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease in which granulomas, or clumps of inflammatory cells, form in various organs. This causes organ inflammation. Sarcoidosis may be triggered by your body’s immune system responding to foreign substances, such as viruses, bacteria, or chemicals.
The areas of the body commonly affected by sarcoidosis include:
- lymph nodes
The exact cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. However, gender, race, and genetics can increase the risk of developing the condition:
- Sarcoidosis is more common in women than in men.
- People of African-American descent are more likely to develop the condition.
- People with a family history of sarcoidosis have a significantly higher risk of getting the disease.
Sarcoidosis rarely occurs in children. Symptoms usually appear in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Some people with sarcoidosis don’t have any symptoms. However, general symptoms may include:
Symptoms vary depending on the part of your body that’s affected by the disease. Sarcoidosis can occur in any organ, but it most commonly affects the lungs. Lung symptoms can include:
Skin symptoms can include:
- skin rashes
- skin sores
- hair loss
- raised scars
Nervous system symptoms can include:
- hearing loss
Eye symptoms can include:
- dry eyes
- itchy eyes
- eye pain
- vision loss
- a burning sensation in your eyes
- a discharge from your eyes
It can be difficult to diagnose sarcoidosis. Symptoms can be similar to those of other diseases, such as arthritis or cancer. Your doctor will run a variety of tests to make a diagnosis.
Your doctor will first perform a physical examination to:
- check for skin bumps or a rash
- look for swollen lymph nodes
- listen to your heart and lungs
- check for an enlarged liver or spleen
Based on the findings, your doctor may order additional diagnostic tests:
- A chest X-ray can be used to check for granulomas and swollen lymph nodes.
- A chest CT scan is an imaging test that takes cross-sectional pictures of your chest.
- A lung function test can help determine whether your lung capacity has become affected.
- A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue that can be checked for granulomas.
Your doctor may also order blood tests to check your kidney and liver function.
There’s no cure for sarcoidosis. However, symptoms often improve without treatment. Your doctor may prescribe medications if your inflammation is severe. These can include corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications (medications that suppress your immune system), which can both help reduce inflammation.
Treatment is also more likely if the disease affects your:
- nervous system
The length of any treatment will vary. Some people take medication for one to two years. Other people may need to be on medication for much longer.
Most people who are diagnosed with sarcoidosis don’t experience complications. However, sarcoidosis can become a chronic, or long-term, condition. Other potential complications may include:
- lung infection
- cataracts, which is characterized by a clouding of the lens of your eye
- glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that can cause blindness
- kidney failure
- abnormal heart beat
- facial paralysis
- infertility or difficulty conceiving
In rare cases, sarcoidosis causes severe heart and lung damage. If this occurs, you may need immunosuppressive medications.
It’s important to contact your doctor if you have:
- breathing difficulties
- heart palpitations, which occur when your heart is beating too fast or too slow
- changes in your vision or loss of vision
- eye pain
- sensitivity to light
- facial numbness
These can be signs of dangerous complications.
Your doctor may recommend that you see an optometrist or ophthalmologist because this disease can affect your eyes without causing immediate symptoms.
The outlook is generally good for people with sarcoidosis. Many people live relatively healthy, active lives. Symptoms often improve with or without treatment in about two years.
In some cases, however, sarcoidosis can become a long-term condition. If you have trouble coping, you can talk to a psychotherapist or join a sarcoidosis support group.