What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is a medical mystery. For the physician who is working on the scientific frontier, the disease can be a fascinating challenge. For the patient it can be a very seroius illness, rarely fatal, sometimes of little consequence.Most sarcoidosis patients do not even have any symptoms and probably never know they have the disease. It is not a contagious disease.
What are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?
Most patients have no symptoms at all. In pulmonary sarcoidosis, patients may have a dry cough, shortness of breath or mild chest pain. There can also be fatigue, weakness or weight loss. These symptoms are common in many other lung diseases so diagnosis may be difficult. In those cases where symptoms appear outside the lungs, one may get a scaly rash, red bumps on the legs, fever, soreness of the eyes and pain and swelling of the ankles.
How is Sarcoidosis Diagnosed?
Any of the symptoms listed in the previous section may lead a physician to consider sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is initially diagnosed based on a physical examination, lab tests, pulmonary function studies and a chest x-ray. When enlargement of lymph glands in the center of the lungs is seen on x-ray, sarcoidosis may be suspected.To confirm the diagnosis, a biopsy is usually performed on any of the affected organs or from material in a granuloma on the skin.
How Serious is Sarcoidosis?
About 50% of sarcoidosis patients improve spontaneously. The disease is fatal in less than 5% of patients. In between the two extremes, patients have mild to severe sarcoidosis-with various degrees of impairment, or none at all.
Who Gets Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is found around the world among almost all races, ages and sexes. However, it is most common among African Americans and northern European whites. Sarcoidosis is mainly a disease of young adults-patients between the ages of 25 to 40, although a few people past 60 have been known to have it.
In the United States, a higher percentage of African Americans than white Americans contract sarcoidosis, and the disease can be more serious.
What Causes Sarcoidosis?
This is a big part of the mystery-no one knows. Some physicians belive sarcoidosis results from inhalation of an infectious or allergic substance from the environment. Others believe that the disease is a basic problem in alteration of the cellular immune system.
How is Sarcoidosis Treated?
In the majority of patients the disease spontaneously disappears and no treatment is necessary. Drugs called corticosteroids are the most important treatment used in fighting sarcoidosis. Some physicians prescribe steroids when there are no symptoms but just abnormalities seen on the chest x-ray or in the lung function measurements. Other physicians wait for symptoms to appear before prescribing corticosteroids.
Patients should follow their doctor's directions. This can be a continuation of your normal lifestyle. When drugs are prescribed, they should be taken faithfully, just as the physician orders. It is particularly important that the sarcoidosis patient doesn't smoke!