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Sarcoidosis

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.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

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.

Generalized symptoms

For many people, sarcoidosis begins with these signs and symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss

Lung symptoms

Almost everyone who has sarcoidosis eventually experiences lung problems, which may include:

  • Persistent dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain

Skin symptoms

As many as 25 percent of people who have sarcoidosis develop skin problems, which may include:

  • Rash. A rash of red or reddish-purple bumps, usually located on the shins or ankles, which may be warm and tender to the touch.
  • Lesions. Disfiguring skin sores may occur on your nose, cheeks and ears.
  • Color change. Areas of skin may get darker or lighter in color.
  • Nodules. Growths just under the skin may develop, particularly around scars or tattoos.

Eye symptoms

Sarcoidosis can affect the eyes without causing any symptoms, so it's important to have your eyes checked. When eye symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Severe redness
  • Sensitivity to light

When to see a doctor

Although sarcoidosis is not always serious, it can cause long-term damage to your organs. See your doctor if you experience signs and symptoms suggestive of sarcoidosis.

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:

  • Age and sex. Sarcoidosis often occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are slightly more likely to develop the disease.
  • Race. African-Americans have a higher incidence of sarcoidosis than do white Americans. Also, sarcoidosis may be more severe and may be more likely to recur and cause lung problems in African-Americans.
  • Family history. If someone in your family has had sarcoidosis, you are more likely to develop the disease yourself.

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:

  • Lungs. Untreated pulmonary sarcoidosis can lead to irreversible damage to the tissue between the air sacs in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
  • Eyes. Inflammation can affect almost any part of your eye and can eventually cause blindness. Rarely, sarcoidosis also can cause cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Kidneys. Sarcoidosis can affect how your body handles calcium, which can lead to kidney failure.
  • Heart. Granulomas within your heart can interfere with the electrical signals that drive your heartbeat, causing abnormal heart rhythms and, in rare instances, death.
  • Nervous system. A small number of people with sarcoidosis develop problems related to the central nervous system when granulomas form in the brain and spinal cord. Inflammation in the facial nerves can cause facial paralysis.
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