Sarcoidosis (sahr-koi-DO-sis) is characterized by the development and growth of tiny clumps of inflammatory cells in different areas of your body — most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin.
Doctors believe sarcoidosis results from an abnormal immune response — most likely to something inhaled from the air — but just what triggers this response isn't known. The course of sarcoidosis is variable from person to person. Often, it goes away on its own, but in some people signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis may last a lifetime.
If you have minor signs or symptoms of sarcoidosis, you may just need to be monitored until the illness resolves. But if signs or symptoms are bothersome or put vital organs at risk, treatment with prescription anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful.
Signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis tend to vary, depending on which organs are affected and for how long you've had the disease. Sometimes sarcoidosis develops gradually and produces signs and symptoms that last for years. Or symptoms may appear suddenly and then disappear just as quickly. Many people with sarcoidosis have no symptoms, so the disease may not be discovered until 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 for 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 that may be 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 clump together to form lumps called granulomas. As granulomas build up in an organ, the function of that organ worsens.
While anyone can develop sarcoidosis, factors that may increase your risk include:
In about two-thirds of people with sarcoidosis, the condition resolves with no lasting consequences. But in some people, sarcoidosis can become chronic and lead to complications that may affect different parts of your body, such as your:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. He or she may eventually refer you to a lung specialist since sarcoidosis most commonly involves the lungs. The pulmonologist might then refer you to other specialists, if needed.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Sarcoidosis can be difficult to diagnose, partly because the disease produces few signs and symptoms in its early stages. And when symptoms do occur, they vary by organ system affected and can mimic those of other disorders. A variety of diagnostic tests can narrow the possibilities and rule out other conditions.
Lung function tests
Lung biopsies can be obtained during a bronchoscopy (brong-KOS-kuh-pee). This procedure uses a thin, flexible tube that contains a fiber-optic camera and a grasping tool. After the tube is inserted down your throat, a doctor uses the grasping tool to remove a small sample of lung tissue — about the size of a grain of rice. The sample is sent to a microbiology laboratory to look for specific organisms.
Treatments and drugs
You may not need treatment if you don't have any signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis or if they aren't bothering you. Sarcoidosis goes away on its own in many cases, but you should undergo close surveillance with regular chest X-rays and exams of the eyes, skin and any other organ involved. Treatment becomes necessary if organ function is threatened.
Coping and support
There's no cure for sarcoidosis. Treatments simply help manage the symptoms. And while 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, you might want to consider talking with a counselor about your problems. Participating in a sarcoidosis support group may also be helpful.
Last Updated: 2010-07-15
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