Have You Heard of Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a disease that often starts out in the lungs but can affect any part of the body by causing nodular inflammation of the tissues. The disease is seen more often in people aged 20 to 40 and may be more prevalent in those with a family history of sarcoidosis. It may affect women more than men.

Causes and Symptoms of Sarcoidosis

Recent studies suggest that sarcoidosis may be the body’s reaction to irritants in the environment, and the inflammation of the tissues is the body’s attempt to remove the irritant(s).

Sarcoidosis may not exhibit any symptoms in some cases and the diagnosis may be made only with a chest X-ray taken for a different reason.

Sarcoidosis is not contagious and may cause symptoms including:

Diagnosis and Treatment of Sarcoidosis

A combination of visible symptoms and a physical examination may be useful for the right diagnosis. But when the symptoms do not manifest until later, a doctor may be able to make a diagnosis based on:

  • Chest X-rays:

This can show any evidence of lung damage or enlarged lymph nodes in the chest. These changes may sometimes be noticeable even before the other symptoms manifest and nearly 95 percent of the individuals with sarcoidosis have abnormal chest X-rays.

  • Lung function tests:

These can measure the amount of air consumed and let out during a respiratory cycle, the speed of a breath cycle and the rate at which oxygen is delivered to the lungs.

  • Biopsy:

A biopsy can also confirm sarcoidosis and rule out other causes.

If you’re diagnosed with sarcoidosis, it is recommended to see an ophthalmologist to make sure there is no eye damage because the condition can sometimes impact only the eyes without showing any other symptoms.

Sarcoidosis may resolve on its own, without any treatment, but it could take as long as two years and many physicians tend to leave it alone as long as it doesn’t affect other organs like the eye, heart and brain.

However, depending on the extent of the symptoms, a common first approach is to prescribe corticosteroids that target the inflammation. Doctors also prescribe anti-malarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine for conditions affecting the skin or nervous system.

Medications like methotrexate and azathioprine can reduce inflammation by suppressing the immune system and may be effective for sarcoidosis affecting the lungs, skin and joints. But because they suppress the immune system, they could leave the individual more susceptible to other diseases.

Based on the way sarcoidosis and its medications impact the body, it may help to follow a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise and plenty of emotional support from family and friends.

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