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What is Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a rare autoimmune disease that causes cells to group together in your body creating areas of inflammation, also known as granulomas. These granulomas are surrounded by fibrous tissue which makes them feel hard and lumpy. Sarcoidosis most commonly occurs in the lungs and lymph nodes but can occur in any organ of your body and can interfere with that organ’s function.

Pulmonary sarcoidosis is sometimes described in stages based on your lungs’ appearance on a chest X-ray and mostly describe where the granulomas are located. Someone with sarcoidosis can move between stages or have granulomas disappear completely.

  • Stage 0 – X-rays don’t show any pulmonary sarcoidosis. Lungs and lymph nodes appear normal on an X-ray.
  • Stage 1 – granulomas in your lymph nodes only.
  • Stage 2 -- granulomas in your lymph nodes and lungs.
  • Stage 3 -- granulomas in your lungs only.
  • Stage 4 – X-rays show pulmonary fibrosis or permanent scarring in your lungs. 

Causes of Sarcoidosis

While sarcoidosis can affect anyone, it is more common in Black people than in white people. It is also more common in females than males. The exact cause of sarcoidosis is not known, though it is believed that genetic and environmental factors may play a role. 

Symptoms of Sarcoidosis

The symptoms of sarcoidosis will depend on where the granulomas form. For most people with sarcoidosis, lung and breathing problems are the most common symptom, but can occur in your skin, eyes, joints and almost anywhere else in your body. General symptoms of sarcoidosis include:

  • Fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Joint pain.
  • Muscle aches or weakness.
  • Night sweats.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Kidney stones.

Lofgren syndrome is a sudden onset of sarcoidosis defined by a group of symptoms affecting several parts of your body. This condition typically resolves in six months to two years. Symptoms may include:

  • Arthritis in multiple joints.
  • Fever.
  • Red, tender bumps on your shins.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your chest.

Diagnosing Sarcoidosis

To diagnose sarcoidosis, your provider will perform a physical examination and review medical history. Because sarcoidosis can have symptoms similar to other conditions, additional tests may be needed to rule out other illnesses, such as imaging tests or biopsies. Other tests include:

  • Pulmonary function tests – measure how well your lungs work.
  • Lab tests – used to see how well your liver, kidneys and other organs work.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) – checks the electrical activity of your heart.
  • Nuclear imaging – uses a small amount of radioactive material injected into a vein to show inflammation in your body.
  • Purified protein derivative – establishes prior exposure or infection with tuberculosis.

Treatment for Sarcoidosis

There is so specific cure for sarcoidosis and often goes away on its own. Treatment for sarcoidosis aims to manage symptoms and prevent organ damage, though some people don’t notice their symptoms at all. Since granulomas are areas of inflammation caused by immune cells, it is typically treated with medications that aim to reduce inflammation by modifying or suppressing your immune system.

Some medication treatment, such as corticosteroids can put you at an increased risk of getting sick with an infectious disease and can cause a number of side effects, including:

  • Excessive weight gain.
  • Insomnia.
  • Acne.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Glaucoma or cataracts.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Depression.
  • Skin bruising.

Symptom improvement can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after starting treatment. Your provider will monitor your symptoms to determine if that is the right treatment for you.