Sarcoidosis causes the collection of pockets of inflamed cells throughout the body. These cells can collect in a variety of locations including the lungs, lymph nodes, skin and eyes and form lumpy masses called granulomas. If a granuloma is large enough or there are several in an organ, it can affect how that organ functions and cause symptoms.
Doctors believe the inflammation present with sarcoidosis comes from a malfunction in the patient’s immune system, but are not completely sure what causes the condition. Inflammation is a normal response by the body when defending against a foreign substance but triggers a variety of complications for patients with sarcoidosis than can range from mild to severe.
The cause of sarcoidosis is not known, but researchers believe it may be an immune response to an allergic trigger like bacteria, viruses or chemicals. They also believe that patients may have a genetic predisposition for the disease that activates in the presence of an irritant.
Symptoms will vary depending on where in the body the granulomas are forming. Some patients may not have symptoms, or have only mild ones. The condition is often identified when patients are tested for other conditions. Having an X-ray for pneumonia is one example.
Sarcoidosis commonly targets the lungs. In this case patients may experience, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Other symptoms can include:
- Liver and spleen enlargement.
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the chest and neck.
- Arthritis in the ankles (more common in men).
- Tender red-purple rash on the ankles and shins.
- Sores on the back, arms, legs and scalp that itch but don’t hurt.
Some patients require no treatment, but should see a doctor for close monitoring. He or she will monitor any granulomas for signs of change. Patients with symptoms will receive symptom management and complication prevention. Goals of treatment will focus on prevention of scar formation in the lungs, improvement of organ function, and controlling inflammation to reduce the size of the granulomas.
Oral steroids may be used to suppress the body’s immune response. This approach often works well but long-term steroid use can be dangerous for the body, but often works well in treating sarcoidosis. Steroids should be monitored closely by the patient’s physician. Other medications are available to treat granulomas of the skin, brain, joints and lungs. Patients who are wheezing or coughing may need medications to open the airway or thin secretions so they can breathe more easily. Your doctor will decide which ones are best for you based on your symptoms.