Sarcoidosis is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of your body — most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin.
Doctors believe sarcoidosis results from the body's immune system responding to an unknown substance, most likely something inhaled from the air. There is no cure for sarcoidosis, but most people do very well with modest treatment. Sarcoidosis often goes away on its own. Alternatively, signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis may last for years and sometimes lead to organ damage.
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 you have a chest X-ray for another reason.
When to see a doctor
Doctors don't know the exact cause of sarcoidosis. Some people appear to have a genetic predisposition to developing the disease, which may be triggered by exposure to specific bacteria, viruses, dust or chemicals. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the genes and trigger substances associated with sarcoidosis.
Normally, your immune system helps protect your body from foreign substances and invading microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. But in sarcoidosis, some immune cells collect in a pattern of inflammation called granulomas. As granulomas build up in an organ, the function of that organ can be affected.
While anyone can develop sarcoidosis, factors that may increase your risk include:
For most people with sarcoidosis, the condition resolves on its own with no lasting consequences. But sarcoidosis can be long-lasting (chronic) in some people and lead to complications that may affect different parts of your body:
Preparing for your appointment
Because sarcoidosis normally involves the lungs, you may be referred to a lung specialist (pulmonologist) to manage your care.
What you can do
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Sarcoidosis can be difficult to diagnose because the disease produces few signs and symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they vary by organ system affected and can mimic those of other disorders.
Your doctor will likely start with a physical exam, including a close examination of any skin lesions you have. He or she will also listen carefully to your heart and lungs and check your lymph nodes for swelling. Your doctor may also be interested in seeing any previous chest X-rays, to check for signs of early sarcoidosis that may have been overlooked.
Diagnostic tests can help exclude other disorders and determine what body systems may be affected by sarcoidosis. Your doctor may recommend:
Lung biopsies or lymph node biopsies can be obtained through a procedure (bronchoscopy) in which a thin, flexible tube containing a camera is inserted down your throat.
Treatments and drugs
There's no cure for sarcoidosis. You may not need treatment if you don't have significant signs and symptoms of the condition. Sarcoidosis often goes away on its own. But you should be monitored closely with regular chest X-rays and exams of the eyes, skin and any other organ involved.
Coping and support
Although sarcoidosis usually goes away by itself within two years, some people's lives are forever altered by the disease. If you're having trouble coping, consider talking with a counselor. Participating in a sarcoidosis support group may also be helpful.
Last Updated: 2013-01-10
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