Sarcoidosis

  • Basics

    Sarcoidosis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by small bumps, known as granulomas, that can appear almost anywhere inside or outside the body. These granulomas are small areas of inflamed cells.

    Symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected. Shortness of breath, irritation of the eyes, raised pinkish lumps on the skin, weight loss, and fatigue are some possible symptoms of sarcoidosis. However, sarcoidosis can occur without symptoms. Because there is no known cause, and because symptoms can be absent or due to other disorders, sarcoidosis is difficult to diagnose.

    The disease usually begins in the lungs and lymph nodes, although other commonly affected organs and systems include the skin, eyes, liver, heart, nervous system, and kidneys.

    The disease can appear and then disappear quite suddenly, never to return. In some people, however, sarcoidosis is a chronic disease, with symptoms coming and going for years. These symptoms can be controlled with medication. Much about sarcoidosis remains unknown. Although there is no "cure," sarcoidosis may disappear on its own with or without treatment, sometimes within a year or two. Even when sarcoidosis lasts longer, it is likely that you will be able to lead a normal life. Sarcoidosis is fatal in only 1% to 5% of cases, usually as a result of respiratory failure. It is not a contagious disease.

    Although sarcoidosis can develop at any age, it most commonly occurs for the first time in people between the ages of 20 and 40. Sarcoidosis affects people throughout the world. Yet sarcoidosis often goes undiagnosed or is mistaken for another illness, making it difficult to estimate how many people have it. Current estimates place the number of people in the U.S. with the disease at about 25,000.

  • Causes

    The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. Research suggests, however, that it is an autoimmune disease—one in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the cells, tissues, and organs of a person's own body.

    Because certain racial groups such as African-Americans are more likely than others to develop sarcoidosis, genetic factors are suspected of playing a role in the disease.

    Given that transplant recipients have acquired sarcoidosis after receiving organs from donors with the disease, many researchers believe that an infectious agent may be involved.

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