Sarcoidosis is a disease in which swelling (inflammation) occurs in the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, or other tissues.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The cause of the disease is unknown. In sarcoidosis, clumps of abnnormal tissue (granulomas) form in certain organs of the body. Granulomas are clusters of immune cells.
The disease can affect almost any organ of the body, but it most commonly affects the lungs.
Possible causes of sarcoidosis include:
- Excess sensitivity to environmental factors
- Extreme immune response to infection
The condition is more common in African Americans than Caucasians. Females are usually affected more often than males. The disease typically begins between the ages of 20 and 40. Sarcoidosis is very rare in young children.
There may be no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can involve almost any part or organ system in your body.
Almost all patients have lung or chest symptoms:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort behind your breast bone
- Abnormal breath sounds (such as rales)
Symptoms of general discomfort or uneasiness often occur:
- Ill feeling (malaise)
- Fatigue (one of the most common symptoms in children)
- Weight loss (one of the most common symptoms in children)
- Joint achiness or pain (arthralgia)
- Skin rashes
- Old scars become more raised
- Raised, red, firm skin sores (erythema nodosum), almost always on the front part of the lower legs
- Skin lesions
- Hair loss
Nervous system (neurological) and vision changes:
- Weakness or paralysis (palsy) on one side of the face
- Eye burning, itching, and discharge
- Symptoms of uveitis
- Decreased tearing
Other symptoms of this disease:
Signs and tests
Often the disease is found in patients with no symptoms who have an abnormal chest x-ray.
Different imaging tests may help diagnose sarcoidosis:
- Chest x-ray to see if the lungs are involved or lymph nodes are enlarged
- CT scan
- Lung gallium (Ga.) scan
Biopsies of different tissues may be done:
- Lymph node biopsy
- Skin lesion biopsy
- Bronchoscopy to perform a biopsy
- Open lung biopsy
- Mediastinoscopy with biopsy
- Liver biopsy
- Kidney biopsy
- Nerve biopsy
- Heart biopsy
This disease may also alter the results of the following lab tests:
Sarcoidosis symptoms often get better on their own gradually without treatment.
Severely affected patients may need treatment with corticosteroids (prednisone or methylprednisolone). This includes people who have involvement of the eyes, heart, nervous system, and some with lung involvement. Therapy may continue for 1 or 2 years. Some of the most severely affected patients may require life-long therapy.
Drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressive medicines), such as methotrexate, azathioprine, and cyclophosphamide, are sometimes used in addition to corticosteroids. Rarely, some people with irreversible organ failure require an organ transplant.
Although these treatments may temporarily improve the symptoms of the disease, long-term treatment has not been proven to prevent sarcoidosis from slowly getting worse.
Many people are not seriously ill, and the disease may get better without treatment. About 30 - 50% of cases get better without treatment in 3 years. About 20% of those whose lungs are involved will develop lung damage.
The overall death rate from sarcoidosis is less than 5%. Causes of death include:
- Scarring of lung tissue (pulmonary fibrosis)
- Bleeding from the lung tissue
- Involvement of the heart (rarely)
- Osteoporosis and other complications of taking corticosteroids for longer periods of time.
- Diffuse interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Fungal lung infections (aspergilloma)
- Anterior uveitis
- Glaucoma and blindness (rare)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Cranial or peripheral nerve palsies
- High calcium levels (hypercalcemia)
- Kidney stones
- Organ failure, leading to the need for a transplant
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you have:
Weinberger SE. Sarcoidosis. Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 95.
Iannuzzi MC, Rybicki BA, Teirstein AS. Sarcoidosis. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:2153-2165.
Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, D.O., Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.