Fact: Many patients with sarcoidosis require no treatment.
What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is a disease that results from a specific type of inflammation of tissues of the body. It can appear in almost any body organ, but it starts most often in the lungs or lymph nodes.
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
What are the symptoms of sarcoidosis?
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:
- a dry cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain around your breastbone
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
Doctors don't know the exact cause of sarcoidosis. Some people appear to have a genetic predisposition to develop the disease, which may be triggered by bacteria, viruses, dust or chemicals.
This triggers an overreaction of your immune system and immune cells begin to collect in a pattern of inflammation called granulomas. As granulomas build up in an organ, the function of that organ can be affected.
While anyone can develop sarcoidosis, factors that may increase your risk include:
- Age and sex. Sarcoidosis often occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are slightly more likely to develop the disease.
- Race. African-Americans have a higher incidence of sarcoidosis than do white Americans. Also, sarcoidosis may be more severe and may be more likely to recur and cause lung problems in African-Americans.
- Family history. If someone in your family has had sarcoidosis, you're more likely to develop the disease.
Sarcoidosis can be difficult to diagnose because the disease produces few signs and symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may mimic those of other disorders.
Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam, including a close examination of any skin lesions you have. He or she will also listen carefully to your heart and lungs and check your lymph nodes for swelling.
Diagnostic tests can help exclude other disorders and determine what body systems may be affected by sarcoidosis.
Your doctor may recommend the following tests:
- Chest X-ray to check for lung damage or enlarged lymph nodes
- Computerized tomography (CT scan) if complications are suspected.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if sarcoidosis seems to be affecting your heart or central nervous system.
- Blood tests to assess your overall health and how well your kidneys and liver are functioning.
- Lung (pulmonary) function tests to measure lung volume and how much oxygen your lungs deliver to your blood.
- Eye exam to check for vision problems that may be caused by sarcoidosis.
Your doctor may order a small sample of tissue (biopsy) be taken from a part of your body believed to be affected by sarcoidosis to look for the granulomas commonly seen with the condition.
Biopsies can most easily be taken from your skin if you have skin lesions. Biopsies can also be taken from the lungs and lymph nodes if needed.
There's no cure for sarcoidosis, but in half of cases it goes away on its own. You may not even need treatment if you don't have significant signs and symptoms of the condition, but you should be monitored with regular chest X-rays and exams of the eyes, skin and any other organ involved.
If your symptoms are severe or organ function is threatened, you will likely be treated with medication.
- Corticosteroids. These powerful anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first-line treatment for sarcoidosis. In some cases, corticosteroids can be applied directly to an affected area — via a cream to a skin lesion or drops to the eyes.
- Medications that suppress the immune system. Medications like methotrexate (Trexall) and azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system.
- Hydroxychloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) may be helpful for skin disease and elevated blood-calcium levels.
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitors. These medications are commonly used to treat the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. They can also be helpful in treating sarcoidosis that hasn't responded to other treatments.
Organ transplant may be considered if sarcoidosis has severely damaged your lungs, heart or liver.
Want to learn more?
The following organizations and/or websites offer additional information and education about Sarcoidosis. They are listed in alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.