Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs in the body, but mostly the lungs and lymph glands. In people with sarcoidosis, abnormal masses or nodules (called granulomas) consisting of inflamed tissues form in certain organs of the body. These granulomas may alter the normal structure and possibly the function of the affected organ(s).
What Are Symptoms of Sarcoidosis
The symptoms of sarcoidosis can vary greatly, depending on which organs are involved. Most patients initially complain of a persistent dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:
- Tender reddish bumps or patches on the skin.
- Red and teary eyes or blurred vision.
- Swollen and painful joints.
- Enlarged and tender lymph glands in the neck, armpits and groin.
- Enlarged lymph glands in the chest and around the lungs.
- Nasal stiffness and hoarse voice.
- Pain in the hands, feet or other bony areas due to the formation of cysts (an abnormal sac-like growth) in bones.
- Kidney stone formation.
- Enlarged liver.
- Development of abnormal or missed beats (arrhythmias), inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericarditis) or heart failure.
- Nervous system effects, including hearing loss, meningitis, seizures or psychiatric disorders (for example, dementia, depression, psychosis).
In some people, symptoms may begin suddenly and/or severely and subside in a short period of time. Others may have no outward symptoms at all even though organs are affected. Still others may have symptoms that appear slowly and subtly, but which last or recur over a long time span.
Who Gets Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis most often occurs between 20 and 40 years of age, with women being diagnosed more frequently than men. The disease is 10 to 17 times more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians. People of Scandinavian, German, Irish or Puerto Rican origin are also more prone to the disease. It is estimated that up to 4 in 10,000 people in the U.S. have Sarcoidosis.
What Causes Sarcoidosis?
The exact cause of sarcoidosis is not known. The disease is associated with an abnormal immune response, but what triggers this response is uncertain. How sarcoidosis spreads from one part of the body to another is still being studied.
Drug treatments are used to relieve symptoms and reduce the inflammation of the affected tissues. The oral corticosteroid prednisone is the most commonly used treatment. Fatigue and persistent cough are usually improved with steroid treatment. If steroids are prescribed, you should see your doctor at regular intervals so that he or she can monitor the disease and the side effects of treatment. Other treatment options include methotrexate and Plaquenil and other drugs.
What Can Happen as the Disease Progresses?
In many people with sarcoidosis, the disease appears briefly and then disappears without the person even knowing they have the disease. Twenty to 30% of people have some permanent lung damage. For 10% to 15%, sarcoidosis is a chronic condition. In some people, the disease may result in the deterioration of the affected organ. Sarcoidosis can be fatal in 5% to 10% of patients.