What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is an illness characterised by inflammation in almost any organ in the body and often involves the lungs. The inflammation in sarcoidosis is called granulomatous inflammation.
That means that biopsy samples taken from the affected organs of people with sarcoidosis, abnormal clumps of immune and inflammation cells (granulomas) can be seen under the microscope.
What Happens in the Immune System in Someone with Sarcoidosis?
Immune and inflammation cells are part of our defence mechanisms to fight off infection and repair injury, but sometimes these cells cause damage instead. In people who are more susceptible to infections and who are in contact with certain environmental circumstances, some evidence shows that an infection triggers a cascade of immune and inflammatory responses. In sarcoidosis, the inflammation can cause symptoms that:
- Resolve on their own—this happens in up to 50% of the people who have it
- Flare up periodically
- Progress to more severe complications
In less than 5% of people with sarcoidosis, this can lead to death, usually from heart or advanced lung involvement.
What Causes Sarcoidosis?
The exact cause of sarcoidosis isn’t known. It may be that exposure to something foreign to the body (an antigen) triggers a response by the immune system to cause sarcoidosis. Scientists have been researching and making progress to discover what that something or somethings may be.
Who Gets Sarcoidosis?
It’s usually recognised in people between 20 and 50 years of age. It affects people all over the world but is more common in African Americans and in people of Northern European descent.
Do People of Different Ethnic Groups React Differently to the Disease?
The pattern of how the disease affects people and whether it resolves on its own seems to depend on whether the person with sarcoidosis is of Northern European or African American descent. Though further research is needed, this suggests that the interactions between genetics and environmental exposures may be important.
What are the Symptoms of Sarcoidosis?
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Eye problems
- Skin changes
- Irregular heart rhythms
Why is Sarcoidosis Sometimes Diagnosed Years After Symptoms Develop?
- Infections in the tuberculosis family
- Bacteria that cause acne
- Certain fungal infections
- Environmental exposure to dusts of beryllium and others
Can I Be Tested for Sarcoidosis?
How Can I Get the Appropriate Treatment for Sarcoidosis?
- Past illnesses
- Environmental and other exposures
Dr. Roslyn F. Schneider was previously the Global Patient Affairs Lead driving patient-centricity within Pfizer's Medical Organization. Previously, she was also in clinical practice and medical education for twenty years in New York City.
- 1. What is sarcoidosis? US National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. Accessed 14/2/2017.
- 2. Gerke AK. Morbidity and Mortality in Sarcoidosis. Curr Opin Pulm Med 2014; 20(5):472–478. doi: 10.1097/MCP.0000000000000080 Accessed 14/2/2017.
- 3. Descriptions of diseases. American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association. Accessed 14/2/2017.