Introduction to Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is a very rare condition where certain cells in your body abnormally form small lumps. These can occur anywhere but most commonly form within the lungs, skin and lymph nodes.
What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is a very rare condition where certain cells in your body abnormally form small lumps (granulomas). These can occur anywhere throughout the body but most commonly form within the lungs, skin and lymph nodes. The granulomas affect the ability of the affected area to perform its function; e.g. if granulomas are found in the lung, they can cause breathing problems and a persistent cough. Sarcoidosis occurs in 1/10’000 people and there is no known cause.
What are the causes for Sarcoidosis?
The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. It is thought that the immune system abnormally attacks the body, possibly as a result of an unknown environmental factor, causing the formation of granulomas. The reason why very few people are affected by sarcoidosis may be because only those with certain genetics are susceptible. Sarcoidosis is rare in childhood and mainly affect those of the age group 20-40. It is more common if African ethnicities and affects more women than men.
What are the symptoms of Sarcoidosis?
The symptoms patients experiences during sarcoidosis entirely depend on where the granulomas are located throughout the body and how severe the condition is (e.g. how many granulomas and how big). In some cases, it can occur rapidly and clear up on its own within a few months or years (acute sarcoidosis). Certain patients are asymptomatic and they are diagnosed after a routine x-ray. Chronic sarcoidosis is where the condition progresses over time and it most commonly affect the lungs, skin and lymph nodes. The commonest symptoms include shortness of breath and a persistent cough (90% have pulmonary sarcoidosis), tender erythematous bumps on the skin (25% have sarcoidosis affecting the skin), swollen and painful lymph nodes, tiredness, sore eyes, heart arrhythmias, joint and bone pains and headaches.
How is Sarcoidosis treated?
Most cases of sarcoidosis resolve without treatment and this can take a few months to a few years. Simple analgesics and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to control the pain of any flare-ups. X-rays, respiratory tests and blood tests can monitor progress of the disease. If treatment is required (e.g. chronic sarcoidosis), medications that suppress the abnormal response of the immune system is the best choice. Steroid tablets (prednisolone) are used but they suppress the entire immune system and have an affect on the body’s chemical balance; they can therefore have undesirable side effects such as weight gain, changes in mood, weakening of the bones and an increased risk of infection. Measures need to be taken to improve the outcome of those with the disease and these measures include smoking cessation, a healthy diet, frequent exercise and good sleep.