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What is sarcoidosis?

Lungs and Breathing Rheumatology Primary Care
Sore throat of a woman

Sarcoidosis is a disorder that causes the body’s immune system to overreact, causing inflammation and collection of inflammatory cells called granuloma. It can show up in any area of the body, but most often it affects the lungs and lymph nodes.

“We don’t know the exact cause of sarcoidosis, but we think it’s caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking an unknown substance, such as infectious agents, chemicals or even dust,” says Som N. Chalise, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care specialist with Riverside Pulmonary & Sleep Specialists in Newport News. The condition is relatively rare and usually chronic, meaning it can persist for a long time. Over time, sarcoidosis can lead to serious damage and complications such as organ failure.

Symptoms of sarcoidosis

The signs and symptoms of this condition involve inflamed cells and will vary based on which part of the body is affected. In most cases, you’ll notice general symptoms first, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling and pain in joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes (small glands on the neck, armpits, groin, around the stomach and between the lungs)
  • Unintentional weight loss

You may experience these symptoms when sarcoidosis affects these specific areas:

Lung symptoms

  • Persistent dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Pain in your chest

Skin symptoms

  • Areas of your skin that are discolored – either lighter or darker than the rest of your body
  • Growths under your skin
  • Rash of red or purple bumps on your shins or ankles
  • Sores on your nose, cheeks or ears

Eye symptoms

  • Blurry vision
  • Burning, itching or dry eyes
  • Pain in one or both eyes
  • Redness in one or both eyes
  • Sensitivity to light

Heart symptoms

  • Pain in your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Syncope (fainting)
  • Fatigue
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Heart palpitation (fluttering heartbeat)
  • Edema (swelling)

Treatment for sarcoidosis

Your doctor will get different types of tests. These tests typically include a chest X-ray, pulmonary function test, blood work and sometimes CT scans. Many times a biopsy will be necessary to help diagnose the condition. A cure for this condition doesn’t yet exist. “The good news is that many people with sarcoidosis can get by with no treatment or with very little treatment. Sometimes, the symptoms even disappear on their own,” explains Dr. Chalise. 

For those who do need treatment, your specialist may prescribe a combination of medications or therapies, which focus on managing your symptoms and reducing your chances of further complications. Getting treatment is essential if your doctor recommends it. If sarcoidosis has severely damaged an organ, such as the lungs or heart, an organ transplant may be necessary.

When to talk to your doctor 

If you notice any of these symptoms and think that you may be affected by sarcoidosis, it’s important that you seek medical care from an experienced provider (ask your primary care provider) so you can avoid serious complications.

Find a provider near you or call Riverside Nurse at 1-800-675-6368 for help in selecting a pulmonary medicine specialist.

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