Sarcoidosis is a disease characterized by the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in any part of your body — most commonly the lungs and lymph nodes. But it can also affect the eyes, skin, heart and other organs.
The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown, but experts think it results from the body’s immune system responding to an unknown substance. Some research suggests that infectious agents, chemicals, dust and a potential abnormal reaction to the body’s own proteins (self-proteins) could be responsible for the formation of granulomas in people who are genetically predisposed.
There is no cure for sarcoidosis, but most people do very well with no treatment or only modest treatment. In some cases, sarcoidosis goes away on its own. However, sarcoidosis may last for years and may cause organ damage.
Symptoms of Sarcoidosis
Signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis vary depending on which organs are affected. Sarcoidosis sometimes develops gradually and produces symptoms that last for years. Other times, symptoms appear suddenly and then disappear just as quickly. Many people with sarcoidosis have no symptoms, so the disease may be discovered only when a chest X-ray is done for another reason.
General symptoms of Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis can begin with these signs and symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Pain and swelling in joints, such as the ankles
Lung symptoms for Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis most often affects the lungs and may cause lung problems, such as:
- Persistent dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Skin symptoms for Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis may cause skin problems, which may include:
- A rash of red or reddish-purple bumps, usually located on the shins or ankles, which may be warm and tender to the touch
- Disfiguring sores (lesions) on the nose, cheeks and ears
Eye symptoms for Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis can affect the eyes without causing any symptoms such as blurred vision, Eye pain, sensitivity to light
Diagnosis for Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis can be difficult to diagnose because the disease often produces few signs and symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may mimic those of other disorders.
Diagnostic tests can help exclude other disorders and determine what body systems may be affected by sarcoidosis. Your doctor may recommend tests such as:
- Blood and urine tests to assess your overall health and how well your kidneys and liver are functioning
- Chest X-ray to check your lungs and heart
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the chest to check your lungs
- Lung (pulmonary) function tests to measure lung volume and how much oxygen your lungs deliver to your blood
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to detect heart problems and monitor the heart’s status
- Eye exam
Biopsies for 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
Treatment for Sarcoidosis
There’s no cure for sarcoidosis, but in many cases, it goes away on its own. You may not even need treatment if you have no symptoms or only mild symptoms of the condition.
Medications for Sarcoidosis
If your symptoms are severe or organ function is threatened, you will likely be treated with medications. These may include:
- 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 such as methotrexate
- Hydroxychloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) may be helpful for skin lesions and elevated blood-calcium levels.
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitors.