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Sarcoidosis - Topic Overview

What is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis (say "sar-koy-DOH-sus") is a rare disease that creates tiny lumps of cells throughout the body. These lumps, called granulomas, are too small to see or feel. They can form anywhere on the inside or outside of the body and can cause permanent scar tissue. They often form in the lungs, lymph nodes, liver, skin, or eyes.

Sarcoidosis may affect how an organ works. For instance, if it's in your lungs, you may be short of breath. For every 10 people who get sarcoidosis, 2 or 3 will have permanent lung damage. A small number of people may end up with chronic sarcoidosis, which can last for years.1

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No one can predict how sarcoidosis might affect you. Some people don't have any symptoms at all. For more than half of the people who get it, sarcoidosis appears just for a short time and then heals itself—without any treatment.

What causes sarcoidosis?

No one knows for sure what causes sarcoidosis.

Medical experts say that sarcoidosis is most likely a disease of the body's immune system.

It might also be a respiratory infection that happens when someone with certain genes comes into contact with things in the environment, like bacteria, viruses, chemicals, toxins, or allergens.

Young and middle-aged adults are the most likely to get sarcoidosis, but you can get it at any age. The disease doesn't spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms?

For some people, sarcoidosis may cause no symptoms at all. For others, it can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which part of the body or which organs it affects. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Body aches.
  • Skin problems.
  • Swollen lymph glands.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Painful joints.
  • Numbness.

Sarcoidosis may lead to lung or heart problems.

It can also cause high calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia). This can lead to weakness, lack of energy, loss of appetite, and other symptoms.

How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?

Sarcoidosis is often found in patients who don't have any symptoms of sarcoidosis but who have abnormal chest X-ray results.

Sometimes doctors can diagnose the disease after a physical or eye exam or by looking at a chest X-ray. Different tests like lab tests and lung tests can also help doctors make a correct diagnosis.

Your doctor may ask to take a sample of cells (biopsy) from the affected organ and examine them to make sure that the disease really is sarcoidosis. By looking at the biopsy, doctors can rule out other diseases that look like sarcoidosis.

How is it treated?

Not everyone who has sarcoidosis needs treatment. Sometimes the disease goes away on its own. If the disease affects certain organs—such as your eyes, heart, or brain—you'll need treatment even if you don't have any symptoms.

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