What is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis (sar"koi-do'sis) involves inflammation that produces tiny lumps of cells in various organs in your body. The lumps are called granulomas (gran"u-lo'mahs) because they look like grains of sugar or sand. They are very small and can be seen only with a microscope.

These tiny granulomas can grow and clump together, making many large and small groups of lumps. If many granulomas form in an organ, they can affect how the organ works. This can cause symptoms of sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosis can occur in almost any part of your body, although it usually affects some organs more than others. It usually starts in one of two places—the lungs or lymph nodes, especially lymph nodes in your chest cavity.

What causes sarcoidosis?

The cause of sarcoidosis is not known. And, there may be more than one thing that causes it.

Scientists think that sarcoidosis develops when your immune system responds to something in the environment (e.g., bacteria, viruses, dust, chemicals) or perhaps to your own body tissue (autoimmunity).

What are the signs and symptoms?

Many people who have sarcoidosis have no symptoms. Often, the condition is discovered by accident only because a person has a chest x ray for another reason, such as a pre-employment x ray.Some people have very few symptoms, but others have many. Symptoms usually depend on which organs the disease affects. Symptoms from sarcoidosis in the lungs and lymph nodes include shortness of breath, a dry cough, wheezing, and enlarged and sometimes tender lymph nodes. Changes in sarcoidosis usually occur slowly (e.g., over months). Sarcoidosis does not usually cause sudden illness. However, some symptoms may occur suddenly. They include:

Who is at risk?

Sarcoidosis affects men and women of all ages and races worldwide. It occurs mostly in people ages 20 to 40; African Americans, especially women; and people of Asian, German, Irish, Puerto Rican, and Scandinavian origin.

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How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?

Your doctor will determine if you have sarcoidosis by taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical exam and several tests. The tests may include a chest x ray, blood and lung function tests, an electrocardiogram, magnetic resonance scan, and scans using radioactive elements.

How is sarcoidosis treated?

Treatment for sarcoidosis depends on your symptoms and how severe they are, whether any of your critical organs (for example, your lungs, eyes, heart, brain) are affected, and how they are affected.

Does the disease affect all people in the same way?

The course of the disease varies greatly among people. In many people, sarcoidosis is mild. The inflammation that causes the granulomas may get better on its own. The granulomas may stop growing or shrink. Symptoms may go away within a few years.

In some people, the inflammation remains but doesn't get worse. You may also have symptoms or flare-ups and need treatment every now and then. In other people, sarcoidosis slowly gets worse over the years and can cause permanent organ damage. Although treatment can help, sarcoidosis may leave scar tissue in the lungs, skin, eyes, or other organs. The scar tissue can affect how the organs work. Treatment usually does not affect scar tissue.

In some serious cases in which vital organs are affected, sarcoidosis can result in death.

Links for more information about sarcoidosis

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