Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis (say "sar-coy-doe-sis") is a disease
that may affect any organ or system in the body. People with sarcoidosis may
have no symptoms at all. Or they may have serious problems with many organs in
their body. The cause of sarcoidosis isn't known. It is most common in adults
between 20 and 40 years of age. Sarcoidosis is more common in women than in men.
In the United States, it occurs more often in blacks than in whites. Sarcoidosis
is not contagious. This means you can't catch sarcoidosis from another person
who has the disease.
What are the symptoms of
The symptoms of sarcoidosis vary, depending on
which part of the body is affected. Symptoms can involve several parts of the
body, or only one. Although almost any area of the body can be affected, most
people have few, if any, symptoms. Less than half of people with sarcoidosis
need any treatment.
The most common symptoms involve the lungs,
skin, eyes and liver.
The lungs are affected about 88% of the
time. People with sarcoidosis may have a cough or chest pain. Some people have
breathing problems, but most people have few or no breathing problems.
Between 30% to 50% of people with
sarcoidosis have skin problems, such as rashes or nodules (small bumps on the
About 25% of people with sarcoidosis have
eye symptoms. These symptoms can make it hard to see, but they rarely cause
blindness. Eye symptoms usually include dry eyes, but they can also include
swelling of the tear gland that makes the eyes water.
Sarcoidosis affects the liver in
approximately 20% of people at some point during the disease. The liver can
become enlarged. Some people have abnormal liver tests and/or a liver problem
called cirrhosis (although this is rare).
Symptoms are much less common in the other areas
of the body.
Although the nervous system isn't usually
affected, sarcoidosis can cause muscle weakness or paralysis, seizures, tremors
(shaking), poor coordination, hearing loss, blindness or problems walking.
About 3% to 5% of people have symptoms
that involve the heart. Sarcoidosis can cause the heart to beat abnormally. It
can also cause the heart to be unable to pump blood properly. This is called
congestive heart failure.
About 3% to 4% of people with sarcoidosis
have symptoms involving the bones, such as pain, swelling and joint stiffness.
The hands and feet are most often affected.
Only about 1% of people have symptoms
involving their kidneys, such as kidney stones.
How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?
To find out if you have sarcoidosis, your doctor
will perform a physical exam and take an x-ray and a biopsy (a tissue sample)
from 1 or more areas of your body. Your doctor will rule out other diseases that
can cause similar symptoms.
Your doctor may also order a blood test to
determine the level of a certain chemical (called angiotensin-converting enzyme)
in your blood. Knowing your level of angiotensin-converting enzyme can help your
doctor follow the course of your disease and check your response to treatment.
Your doctor will probably do other blood tests and take other x-rays to see what
areas of your body are affected. A test of your breathing may be performed, as
well as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check how well your heart works.
How will my doctor treat my
If your disease is mild, you may not need to
take medicine. Your doctor will probably treat sarcoidosis if it involves your
kidneys, eyes, heart, nervous system or lungs (especially if breathing
difficulties are getting worse), if you have skin lesions that bother you or if
the sarcoidosis is very severe.
Your doctor will try: (1) to reduce any
inflammation that may interfere with the way your organs work; (2) to prevent
permanent scarring of the lungs if they're affected; and (3) to decrease any
symptoms you have. Medicines called corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are
used to treat sarcoidosis. How long you take the medicine depends on how severe
the disease is and how well you respond to the medicine. Other medicines are
sometimes used to treat more severe forms of sarcoidosis.
What can people with sarcoidosis
In many people, sarcoidosis gets better all by
itself. Women and people with less severe lung involvement usually do the best.
If you have sarcoidosis, you should discuss your illness in more detail with
your family doctor. As with most other illnesses, you and your doctor should
work together as partners to create a treatment plan for you.