What is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes inflammation of the body’s tissues. Inflammation is a reaction of the body’s immune system to injury. It usually causes reddened skin, warmth, swelling, and pain in the injured area. However, inflammation from sarcoidosis is different. The inflammation produces small lumps called granulomas. It can happen in any part of the body. Most often it starts in the lungs, but other places it may attack are the skin, liver, lymph glands, spleen, eyes, nervous system (including the brain), muscles and bones, heart, and kidneys.

Usually sarcoidosis is a mild condition and does not cause lasting problems. In most cases the symptoms go away with or without treatment within a few years. In some cases the inflammation may continue and scar tissue may form. This can cause organ damage. For example, it may damage the lungs and make it harder to breathe.

The disease is most common in adults between 20 and 40 years old. In the US African Americans are more likely to have the disease.

What is the cause?

The cause of sarcoidosis is not known. It’s most likely a problem with the immune system. It is not contagious and there is no evidence that it can be inherited.

What are the symptoms?

Most people have no symptoms. Others may have just one symptom or many. When symptoms do occur they may develop either gradually or very quickly. Symptoms depend on the part of the body that is affected. Examples of possible symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (most common in the neck)
  • Fever
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Rash
  • Eye problems (itching, burning, red eyes, blurred vision, dryness)
  • Joint stiffness

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Lung function tests (often called PFTs) to see how well your lungs are working
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy, which is the removal of a small piece of tissue from the part of your body that seems to be affected

How is it treated?

In many cases no treatment is needed. Sarcoidosis symptoms often go away gradually on their own.

If you are having symptoms, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help reduce inflammation and control your symptoms.

Your provider may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat inflammation and pain. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.

You may need to take medicine for a couple of years. If you have severe symptoms, you may need to take medicine for many years. The prednisone can cause side effects, so you will need to be checked regularly by your healthcare provider while you are being treated.

While you have the disease, you will have follow-up tests and checkups. You will probably need to have chest X-rays, eye tests, blood tests, and breathing tests every few months or so.

Severe sarcoidosis can make it harder for a woman to get pregnant, particularly older women. However, many women have given birth to healthy babies while being treated for sarcoidosis. Women who have sarcoidosis and are planning to have a baby should discuss this with their healthcare provider.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about whether or not you should use medicine to help stop the inflammation caused by sarcoidosis.
  • Stay away from substances that can hurt the lungs, like smoke, dust, and chemicals.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • Have an eye exam every year.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-10-24
Last reviewed: 2013-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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