Sarcoidosis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Picture of Sarcoidosis

What is Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in different parts of your body most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin.

Doctors believe sarcoidosis results from the body’s immune system responding to an unknown substance, most likely something inhaled from the air.

There is no cure for sarcoidosis, but most people do very well with little or only modest treatment. In half of cases, sarcoidosis goes away on its own. In a few cases, however, sarcoidosis may last for years and may cause organ damage.

What Are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?

The symptoms of sarcoidosis can vary greatly, depending on which organs are involved. Most patients initially complain of a persistent dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:

  • Tender reddish bumps or patches on the skin.
  • Red and teary eyes or blurred vision.
  • Swollen and painful joints.
  • Enlarged and tender lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Enlarged lymph glands in the chest and around the lungs.
  • Hoarse voice.
  • Pain in the hands, feet, or other bony areas due to the formation of cysts (an abnormal sac-like growth) in bones.
  • Kidney stone formation.
  • Enlarged liver.
  • Development of abnormal or missed heart beats (arrhythmias), inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericarditis), or heart failure.
  • Nervous system effects, including hearing loss, meningitis, seizures, or psychiatric disorders (for example, dementia, depression, psychosis).

Causes of Sarcoidosis

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of sarcoidosis. Some people appear to have a genetic predisposition to develop the disease, which may be triggered by bacteria, viruses, dust or chemicals.

This triggers an overreaction of your immune system and immune cells begin to collect in a pattern of inflammation called granulomas. As granulomas build up in an organ, the function of that organ can be affected.

How Sarcoidosis be Treated?

There’s no cure for sarcoidosis. However, symptoms often improve without treatment. Your doctor may prescribe medications if your inflammation is severe. These can include corticosteroids or anti-rejection medications, which can both help reduce inflammation.

Treatment is also more likely if the disease affects your:

  • eyes
  • lungs
  • heart
  • nervous system

The length of any treatment will vary. Some people take medication for one to two years. Other people may need to be on medication for much longer.

Good health practices include:

  • Getting regular check-ups with your health care provider
  • Eating a well-balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Drinking 8 to 10 8-ounce glasses of water a day
  • Getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  • Exercising regularly, and managing and maintaining your weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding exposure to dust, chemicals, fumes, gases, toxic inhalants, and other substances that can harm your lungs
  • Avoiding excessive amounts of calcium-rich foods (such as dairy products, oranges, and canned salmon with bones), vitamin D, and sunlight. Daily sunbathing is an example of excessive sunlight and should be avoided; sunlight received from activities of everyday living is acceptable. (The advice in this bullet point is limited to patients with high blood or urine levels of calcium.)

Drug treatments are used to relieve symptoms, reduce the inflammation of the affected tissues, reduce the impact of granuloma development, and prevent the development of lung fibrosis and other irreversible organ damage.

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