by Kimberly Allen RN
Sarcoidosis is a disease in which certain immune, or inflammatory, cells grow in tiny clumps called granulomas. Sarcoidosis affects both men and women, however, the incidence rate is higher in women. It also affects African Americans more often than Caucasians and is also usually more severe in African Americans. Sarcoidosis usually manifests between the ages of 20-40, however, there has also been a surge noted in women over 50 years of age. Though it is possible sarcoidosis is very rare in children.
No one really knows what causes sarcoidosis though there are some theories. Researchers have found that people with a family history of sarcoidosis have a 5 times higher risk of developing the disease. However, they have not found any evidence indicating it passes from a parent to a child. They have also not been able to identify any genes associated with the development of sarcoidosis. Currently most experts believe it is caused by an abnormal immune response. However, they have not been able to determine exactly what triggers that immune response, it could be due to a foreign substance, virus drug, or chemical or something else. The list of possible triggers is endless. Researchers also know that sarcoidosis is not a form of cancer, nor is it contagious, no one can catch it from you anymore than you can catch it from anyone else.
The granulomas of sarcoidosis can develop anywhere in the body including the organs. The most common places for the granulomas of sarcoidosis to develop are in the lymph nodes, lungs, skin and eyes. The symptoms of sarcoidosis vary depending on the location and size of the granulomas. Sarcoidosis can develop slowly producing mild symptoms that are present for years or it can appear suddenly. Most people with sarcoidosis will experience some type of respiratory problem, shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough and chest pain. In addition to respiratory symptoms most also experience general discomfort like fatigue, joint aches and pains, fever, and malaise. People that are experiencing granulomas with skin involvement may also experience hair loss, skin sores that are red, raised and hard on the lower legs as well as a rash. Some people that have scars may notice that the scars become raised and inflamed. Some people may also experience severe headaches, seizures, and maybe even some weakness on one side of the face. People that have sarcoidosis in the eyes will notice a discharge, with dry, burning and itching as well as pain. Loss of vision can also occur.
Approximately one third of the people that develop sarcoidosis develop chronic symptoms and complications. Left untreated sarcoidosis in the lungs can lead to irreversible damage to the tissue in your lungs and make it increasingly difficult to breathe. Thye granulomas of sarcoidosis can also form in your heart which can interfere with the electrical signals governing the heart beat causing arrhythmias. Though it is infrequent granulomas can also form on the brain and spinal cord which can lead to a variety of central nervous system problems.
Treatment of sarcoidosis depends on it’s severity and organ involvement. Most people don’t experience any crippling effects and the disease resolves itself usually in 24-36 months. However, when people do require treatment the main objective is to maintain lung function as well as maintain the function of any other involved organs and relieving symptoms. The most commonly used medications are corticosteroids like prednisone because of their powerful anti-inflammatory effects. These medications can be taken orally pr applied topically with creams. They can also be used in inhalers to improve respiratory function. Some Drs may prescribe anti rejection medications like methotrexate pr imuran. These medications do reduce inflammation but can have numerous side effects. Some people may require surgery if the granulomas are blocking ducts and/or organs.
As there is no know cause of sarcoiosis there is no way to prevent or cure it. However, if you develop the disease following sensible health measures like eating healthy and exercising as well as not smoking and avoiding exposure to dust and chemicals can help prevent damage.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.