What is Sarcoidosis?

If you watch television shows that are focused on caring for patients at the hospital, you have most likely heard of Sarcoidosis. Television shows like the name because it sounds mysterious and very technical.

However, for patients who suffer from sarcoidosis, the name is not even something they want to hear. This condition is characterized by granulomas, or tiny clusters of inflammatory cells, growing throughout your body. These clusters are usually found on the skin, in the eyes, in the lungs, and deep inside the lymph nodes.

It is believed that sarcoidosis is started by the immune system attempting to fight of an unknown substance. Usually, this is one or more air borne particles that are inhaled during everyday life.

Currently, there is no cure for sarcoidosis. However, the majority of patients diagnosed with this disorder thrive comfortably with only minor treatment. Approximately 50% of cases are fought off by the body’s natural defense system, or immune system. Unfortunately, for cases that are caught later in the process, or if the condition is extremely aggressive, the condition can last for years. When sarcoidosis lasts for several years, there is a strong possibility that it will cause damage to the surrounding organs.

What are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis can have a wide range of symptoms. The symptoms that develop will depend on the organ or organs, that are affected. Some patients have symptoms develop slowly, and they stay around for years. Other people have symptoms appear suddenly, and a few days later the symptoms disappear faster than they developed.

The majority of patients who have sarcoidosis do not present with any symptoms and they have no clue they are even sick. In cases like this, the disease is revealed during routine imaging scans, or imaging scans that were ordered for another purpose.

General Symptoms of Sarcoidosis. These are the symptoms most people experience before the disease is located:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Unexplained fever
  • Inflamed lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss

Symptoms of Lung Involvement

  • Dry cough that becomes persistent
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Wheezing without exercising
  • Pain in the chest

Symptoms of Skin Involvement

  • Reddish or purplish bumps. These usually come up around the shins or ankles. The bumps are usually warm to the touch.
  • Sores on the nose, cheeks and ears
  • Locations on the skin which are darker or lighter than they were previously.
  • Growths, or nodules, under the skin. These usually develop around scars, tattoos, or moles.

Symptoms of Eye Involvement

  • Unexplained, blurry vision
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Unexplained redness, appears as though they are extremely irritated.
  • Sudden sensitivity to light

Sarcoidosis Causes

Doctors and medical researchers are not really sure what the exact cause of sarcoidosis is. The current theory is that the condition is an autoimmune disorder. The thinking is that when some people are infected by a bacteria or virus, their immune system becomes overactive. The disease organism is destroyed, but then the immune system continues to be overactive causing immune cells to cluster into granulomas. The granulomas build up causing the symptoms of sarcoidosis in various places in the body.

In addition to bacteria and viruses triggering an immune reaction, some researchers believe that exposure to allergens as well as chemicals and pollutants may also trigger an immune response leading to sarcoidosis.

While doctors are not sure of a direct cause, they do know that certain people are more likely to develop sarcoidosis. The condition usually affects people who are between 20 and 40 years of age.

In the United States, those of African-American descent have a greater incidence of sarcoidosis than other members of the population.

There also seems to be a genetic component to sarcoidosis. If a family member had the condition, their descendants are more likely to develop the condition.

How is Sarcoidosis Treated?

Currently, there is no cure for sarcoidosis. However, there are effective ways to manage the symptoms and allow you to live a comfortable life. The good news is that in at least 50% of cases, the condition goes away completely on its own. If you do not have any significant symptoms, treatment is not necessary. Treatment for sarcoidosis is geared toward symptom relief.

There are medications available to help treat many of the symptoms of sarcoidosis. There are also medications that you can take if your sarcoidosis has damaged, or is threatening your organ function.

The most popular, and the most effective medications to treat sarcoidosis are:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Immune suppressants
  • Hydroxyghloroquine, to help treat elevated calcium levels.
  • Tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors

If the sarcoidosis has damaged one of your organs, an organ transplant may be necessary.

Sarcoidosis Prevention

There is no real way to prevent Sarcoidosis that doctors are aware of at this time. There is great uncertainty regarding this condition.

It is important that people be aware of the condition, and that they report any symptoms to their healthcare professional. This is especially true for those who have a family history of sarcoidosis.

Those in the most commonly affected groups should take note if they begin to develop chest pain or coughing that doesn’t clear up after an infection. As a main symptom of sarcoidosis, this should be reported to a physician, and patients should bring up the possibility of sarcoidosis with their doctor.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 01, 2017