Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can affect the cells of any of the body's organs. A common disease, sarcoidosis can be found in people of any age, race or gender. It typically affects African-Americans, specifically African-American women, and people of Scandinavian descent. In 90 percent of cases, sarcoidosis affects the lungs. In other cases, the following body parts are affected:

  • Lungs
  • Lymph nodes
  • Eyes
  • Skin
  • Liver
  • Salivary glands
  • Sinuses
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Muscles and bones
  • Brain and nervous system

When sarcoidosis attacks an organ, granulomas form; if clustered together, they can affect organ function.

Causes of Sarcoidosis

The specific cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. Because it tends to run in families, some researchers believe it is caused by a combination of genetic factors. It is also believed that sarcoidosis may be the result of exposure to certain bacteria, viruses or chemicals. Patients with sarcoidosis also develop granulomas within immune-system cells, which weakens the body's protection against invading substances, and puts the body at risk for worsening conditions.

Symptoms of Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis causes varying symptoms, depending on which organs are affected, and the duration of the disease. Symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Joint pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rash
  • Skin nodules or lesions
  • Blurred vision or eye pain

These symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually, and last for many years.

Diagnosis of Sarcoidosis

Because of its varying symptoms and ability to affect different organs, sarcoidosis can be difficult to diagnose. Tests used for a definitive diagnosis include chest X-rays, CT scans, lung-tissue biopsies and lung-function tests.

Treatment of Sarcoidosis

Patients with only mild sarcoidosis symptoms may not require treatment other than regular monitoring. For those with troublesome or threatening symptoms, medications, including the following, may be prescribed to protect affected areas:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Anti-rejection drugs
  • TNF-alpha inhibitors

Most cases of sarcoidosis can be resolved with no permanent complications, but others can cause severe lung damage, blindness, kidney failure and other serious problems. Organ-transplant surgery may be required in severe cases of sarcoidosis.

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