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Last Updated: October 24, 2017

Sarcoidosis

Overview

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can affect any bodily organ. It is characterized by the growth of tiny inflammatory cells called granulomas or nodules. The most commonly affected body parts are the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes, and skin. However, sarcoidosis can also affect the liver, salivary glands, kidneys, sinuses, heart, muscles and bones, and nervous system. Sarcoidosis may result from the body’s immune system reacting to an unknown substance, such as something inhaled from the air.

some common symptoms of sarcoidosis

While there is currently no cure for sarcoidosis, most affected people only need little to modest treatment. Sarcoidosis often clears up on its own. However, some cases can persist for years and cause organ damage. This is because sarcoidosis causes a heightened immune response, which can damage the body’s own tissues. When granulomas over-accumulate in an organ, they can interfere with the normal organ function.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of sarcoidosis remains unknown. It can affect people of any race, age, or gender. However, it typically manifests in adults aged 20-40 years. Certain ethnic groups can develop sarcoidosis more frequently.

Symptoms

The symptoms of sarcoidosis can vary from person to person and depend on the organs affected. Ninety percent of patients with sarcoidosis have the disease in their lungs, where it is usually detected in a routine chest X-ray before symptoms develop. Symptoms for sarcoidosis of the lungs include:

Symptoms Based on Affected Organ

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors diagnose sarcoidosis by first reviewing the patient’s medical history and conducting a physical exam. The doctor may ask about any symptoms and whether they have progressed or eased over time. Next, the diagnosis may be confirmed with a chest X-ray, CT scan, or a microscopic examination of the specimens from the affected tissues or organs.

In the case of sarcoidosis of the lungs, additional tests are performed in order to rule out tuberculosis, including:

When sarcoidosis is present in the nervous system (brain and spinal cord), a positron emission tomography (PET) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help isolate the affected tissue or organ.

When the liver and kidneys appear to be affected, blood tests are used to assess kidney and liver function. An eye exam can diagnose vision problems caused by sarcoidosis.

A biopsy from the affected body part, especially the skin, lungs, and lymph nodes, also helps confirm the diagnosis.

While there is no current cure for sarcoidosis, in most cases the granulomas resolve without other complications. When treatment is required, there are several medications available, especially for sarcoidosis of the lungs.

Medications

Surgery

Surgery in the form of organ transplant may be recommended if sarcoidosis has severely damaged the patient’s lungs, heart or liver.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent sarcoidosis since the exact cause remains unknown.

Sources

Related Topics

Authored by: Tina Shahian, PhD