Overview of Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is the growth of small collections of inflammatory cells in various parts of the body, including: the lungs, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes. This typically occurs when your body is responding to something that has been inhaled. There is no cure for sarcoidosis. Typically, this disease will go away on its own, but in some cases, it may last for much longer and be the cause of damage to other organs.
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Symptoms will solely depend on the cause of the disease and which organ is affected. Symptoms usually appear gradually and may last for years. However, in some cases, symptoms will happen fast and go away fast too. Sarcoidosis is sometimes only diagnosed when you are having a chest x-ray for something else.
Most of the general symptoms are fatigue, unexplained weight loss, fever, or swollen lymph nodes. If there is something wrong with the lungs, then you may notice a dry cough that does not go away, chest pain, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Skin symptoms may be evident through growths under the skin, red rash, lesions on the nose, cheeks, or ears, and areas that may appear darker or lighter in color. Sarcoidosis can also affect the eyes. You may notice eye pain, sensitivity to light, redness, or blurred vision. Lastly, there are also many heart problems that are associated to sarcoidosis. You may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting, irregular heartbeats, or swelling.
There is no one true cause of sarcoidosis. Some people have certain triggers in which their immune system will react in this way. If you are between the ages of 20-40, you are more at risk to develop this disease. Women are more susceptible than men. African-Americans are also at a higher risk than white Americans. If this disease runs in your family, then you are also at a higher risk.
In most cases, there is no lasting effect of sarcoidosis and most people may not even realize that they have this disease. In some cases, there are various long-term problems that may occur. If pulmonary sarcoidosis goes untreated, then there may be permanent lung scarring which will make it very difficult to breathe. Sarcoidosis can also lead to cataracts or glaucoma in your eyes, and in some cases, inflammation in your eyes can eventually lead to blindness. Sarcoidosis also affects how your body handles calcium, which means that you could have kidney failure. Granulomas in your heart can lead to abnormal heartbeats and various other heart problems, which will sometimes lead to death. In very rare cases, some people will have problems with their nervous systems when the granulomas form on the brain or spinal cord.
As previously mentioned, in some cases, sarcoidosis is diagnosed when you go in for a chest x-ray for another reason. This is because symptoms may take longer to develop and is very difficult to diagnose. In some cases, it may be diagnosed as something else. To begin the diagnosis, your physician will perform a basic physical exam and will check for any skin lesions that may be of importance. It is also important that your physician listen to your heart and lungs and check for any swelling. There are also many tests that your physician may recommend to properly diagnose this disease.
A chest x-ray will be able to see lung damage and any change in lymph nodes. A computerized tomography (CT) scan may also be requested so that the physician can see a better picture of your heart and lungs. If sarcoidosis is believed to have affected the heart of the central nervous system, then you may also want to have a positron emission tomography (PET) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Blood tests may be administered to check the health of your kidneys and liver. To see if your eyes have been affected by this disease, your physician may send you to an eye doctor for a proper eye exam. A lung function test may also be used to measure the lung volume and amount of oxygen that is being delivered to the blood. A small biopsy of the lung may be taken too.
There is no cure for sarcoidosis, so your physician will treat the symptoms so that you can feel better. If your symptoms are very mild and do not get in the way of your everyday life, then you should be able to go without treatment. Some medications can treat severe symptoms or organ functions. Some medications that your physician may recommend are corticosteroids, medications that suppress the immune system, hydroxychloroquine, or tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors. In extreme cases, your physician may recommend an organ transplant.
The other part of treatment is how well you take care of your body. Be sure to get regular checkups with your physician and have them hold you accountable. If you are currently a smoker, then you will need to quit smoking immediately. If you have tried to quit in the past and you have not been successful in quitting, then ask your physician for help. Together you can plan to quit smoking and the physician will also hold you accountable. If you have a friend or family member that needs to quit as well, then ask them to help you and see if they have any tricks that could help you as well.
Proper nutrition is also a huge factor in taking care of your body. Eating a balanced diet and drinking enough water is essential. Be sure to also get a solid night’s sleep, usually between 6-8 hours of rest is enough. Lastly, incorporate exercise into your plan to be healthy. If you have difficulty breathing, especially when exercising, begin with a light workout. This could be a simple walk around the neighborhood or riding a bike for a little while each day. Just do something that will keep you moving each day. This may be a difficult task, but it will be easier if you could find an accountability partner.