Sarcoidosis is a condition where there is a sudden spurt of tiny inflammatory cells in different parts of the body. It can affect any organ of the body, like, lungs, eyes, skin, etc. There is no cure for sarcoidosis, but treatment will help control the condition. Also, in many people, the condition resolves on its own.
What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that causes heightened immunity. This means, the immune system starts overreacting and damages the body’s own tissues. The common feature of sarcoidosis is the formation of granulomas. These granulomas are microscopic lumps of inflammatory cells that have grouped together. They appear like granules and hence called as sarcoidosis. When there are many lumps in an organ, it starts affecting the normal functioning of the organs.
Sarcoidosis can affect any organ within the body. The most common organs that are affected by sarcoidosis include the lungs, lymph nodes, skin, eyes, liver, sinuses, kidneys, salivary glands, muscles, bones, brain and the nervous system.
What Are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis can affect many organs at the same time, that is, a multi-system disorder. Thus, the symptoms are dependent on the organ affected. Signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis include:
- Nonspecific symptoms like fever, fatigue, weight loss, night sweats and general ill health
- In 90% of the cases, the lungs are affected bysarcoidosis. This leads to a persistent cough that never seems to go away, shortness of breath and chest pain
- Another commonly affected organ is the lymph nodes. One will observe enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, under the chin, armpits and groin. In some cases, one may even develop enlarged spleen
- Cardiac sarcoidosis affects about 10% of the cases leading to weak heart beat, shortness of breath, swelling in legs and palpitations
- Granulomas in the liver are mostly smptomless and do not require any treatment
- About 25% of the patients have sarcoidosis of the skin, leading to painful, red, raised bumps on the legs and arms, discoloration of the nose, cheeks, ears and lips. Some develop a small brownish, painless skin patch
- When the eyes are affected, it can lead to burning, itching, pain, red eyes, sensitivity to light, dryness, seeing black spots and blurred vision. In some people, chronic inflammation of the membranes or urvea of the eye can lead to glaucoma, cataracts and blindness
- Pain in the joints, muscle weakness, arthritis and mass in the muscles is another symptom of sarcoidosis affecting the bones, joints and muscles
- When the sinuses are affected, it leads to sinusitis, hoarseness and shortness of breath
Causes of Sarcoidosis
The exact cause of sarcoidosis is yet unknown. It is thought to be a disease of the immune system. Any virus, toxin or allergen can trigger the immune system to act against its own tissues. There are many studies and research going on to understand more about the causes of sarcoidosis.
What Happens to the Body in Sarcoidosis?
Any part of the body, inside or outside can be affected by sarcoidosis. One may see small inflammatory patches on the skin, lungs, lymph nodes, etc. In some cases, it could lead to a serious case of pulmonary fibrosis. In many cases, it resolves on its own, without the affected person or doctor even realizing it is sarcoidosis.
Diagnosis of Sarcoidosis
The symptoms of sarcoidosis are very similar to other diseases. Thus, it is very difficult to diagnose in the early stages. A physical examination along with close examination of the skin lesions is carried out. Heart sounds, lungs and swelling of lymph nodes is checked. Other diagnostic tests include:
- X ray for checking lung damage or enlarged lymph in the chest
- CT scan
- PET or MRI scan
- Lung function test
- Eye examination
- Blood tests to check kidney and liver function
Treatment for Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis has no cure. The treatment is only required if one develops signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis. Otherwise, it usually resolves on its own. If the organs and their functions get affected, medications will be prescribed, such as:
- Antimalarial medications
- Tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors
Sarcoidosis requires one to quit smoking, avoid exposure to chemicals, fumes and toxic gases and eat a healthy, balanced diet. Some people have to live with sarcoidosis for life and some get cured of it within 2 years. Thus, one should seek support from their family, friends or join a support group to learn to cope with the pressures of living with sarcoidosis.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015