What is sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is a rare condition that causes small patches of red and swollen tissue, called granulomas, to develop in the organs of the body.
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
Causes of sarcoidosis
The exact cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. However, gender, race, and genetics can increase the risk of developing the condition:
- People with a family history of sarcoidosis have a significantly higher risk of getting the disease.
- Sarcoidosis is more common in women than in men.
- People of African-American descent are more likely to develop the condition.
Sarcoidosis rarely occurs in children. Symptoms usually appear in people between the ages of 20 and 40.
Symptoms of sarcoidosis
Some people with sarcoidosis don’t have any symptoms. However, general symptoms may include:
- dry mouth
- weight loss
- joint pain
- abdominal swelling
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:
Eye symptoms can include:
- a burning sensation in your eyes
- dry eyes
- eye pain
- vision loss
- itchy eyes
- a discharge from your eyes
- chest pain around your breastbone
- a dry cough
- shortness of breath
Nervous system symptoms can include:
- hearing loss
Skin symptoms can include:
- skin rashes
- skin sores
- hair loss
- raised scars
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
- listen to your heart and lungs
- check for an enlarged liver or spleen
- look for swollen lymph nodes
Based on the findings, your doctor may order additional diagnostic tests:
- 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 chest X-ray can be used to check for granulomas and swollen lymph nodes.
- 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:
- glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that can cause blindness
- infertility or difficulty conceiving
- facial paralysis
- lung infection
- abnormal heart beat
- cataracts, which is characterized by a clouding of the lens of your eye
- kidney failure
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:
- changes in your vision or loss of vision
- eye pain
- breathing difficulties
- heart palpitations, which occur when your heart is beating too fast or too slow
- facial numbness
- sensitivity to light
Your doctor may recommend that you see an optometrist or ophthalmologist because this disease can affect your eyes without causing immediate symptoms.
Outlook for someone with sarcoidosis
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.