Sarcoidosis is a multisystem disorder of unknown origin. It involves the immune system and causes inflammation and granuloms in organs throughout the body. Granulomas are ball-like collections of immune cells that form when the immune system attempts to wall off substances it perceives as foreign but are unable to eliminate. The multisystem disease almost always involves the lungs and lymph nodes, but also can affect the skin, eyes, liver, heart, sinus, brain and joints. It can also cause disturbances in calcium metabolism.
Many people recover from the disease with few or no long-term problems. More than half of people with the disease have remission within three years of diagnosis. Many others have remission within 10 years of diagnosis.
Some patients have significant impairment because of organ involvement, especially lungs, hearts, eyes and brain, and require treatment and monitoring by experts in sarcoidosis.
Many patients with sarcoidosis have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are generally reflective of the type of tissue and organ involvement. Respiratory symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain. Some people feel fatigued and experience nonspecific aches and pains. Night sweats, weight loss and decrease in quality of life could also be general symptoms of the disease.
In general, symptoms vary depending on the organ involved.
Sarcoidosis is more common among people of African and Scandinavian descent. The disease is more common in women than men. People usually develop the disease between ages 20 and 50.
People who have a family history of sarcoidosis are at higher risk for the disease. People working in the following jobs may also be at higher risk:
- Health-care workers
- Elementary and secondary school teachers
- Suppliers of building materials, hardware or gardening materials
- Jobs with exposure to agricultural dust, insecticides, pesticides or mold
Sarcoidosis is diagnosed based on medical history, a physical exam, tissue biopsy and the results from medical tests, such as pulmonary function tests, CT scans and eye and blood tests. Health-care providers also look for granulomas, or inflamed lumps, in your organs. Infections, such as tuberculosis and fungal disease, can also cause granulomas, so health-care providers must rule out infection as the cause of the granulomas.
Progressive sarcoidosis can cause loss of lung function, lung scarring and pulmonary hypertension. Other complications include heart failure, kidney stones, increased calcium in the blood and associated problems, such as seizures and problems with eyes, skin, sinus, bones and joints. Patients also have unexplained nonspecific aches and pains that seem unrelated to sarcoidosis.
Patients with sarcoidosis should seek ongoing care, even if they don’t take medications, because the disease can slowly worsen without causing symptoms. Patients should take medications as directed, eat a healthy diet and avoid lung irritants, such as dust, chemicals and cigarette smoke.
Medical Management for Sarcoidosis