Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes inflammation of the lungs. However, this type of inflammation can occur anywhere in the body, including the skin, eyes, brain, heart, and bones. In this condition, clumps of inflammatory cells develop in the affected tissue of the body. The abnormal mass of tissue, also referred to as granulomas, may eventually induce damage to the organ. Thus, the disease in the later stages interferes with the functioning of the organs, and hence, should be treated at the earliest.
People suffering from sarcoidosis may actually not experience any symptoms at all. In most cases, the body does not show any outward signs of this disease. Sarcoidosis is usually discovered during chest X-rays. Symptoms of sarcoidosis vary, depending on which part of the body is invaded by the disease. Symptoms also tend to differ based on the gender and age of the patient. If the disease affects the lungs, then the person may experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Wheezing (rough noise, while breathing)
- Chest pain
- Nasal congestion
Common signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis observed in children are:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Night sweats
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
If this disease has affected the skin, then symptoms include skin lesions, rash, red bumps on the face and arms, and purple skin patches. Sarcoidosis affecting lymph nodes (a part of immune system), give rise to swollen lymph nodes. Generally, lymph nodes in the neck and chest are affected.
Scientists are yet to identify the triggers of sarcoidosis. Studies have not been able to nail the foreign particles responsible for causing this inflammatory response. There are speculations that sarcoidosis could be a fungal, viral or even a bacterial infection. However, these speculations lack concrete evidence and more research is needed to know whether infectious agents are playing any role in causing sarcoidosis.
Is Sarcoidosis Contagious?
It is not yet established that sarcoidosis is due to an infection. However, the risk of sarcoidosis increases in individuals whose first degree or second degree relatives are suffering from this inflammatory condition. Although there is small evidence that suggests some people are genetically predisposed to sarcoidosis, it is too early to say that the inflammatory disease runs in families.
However, there are ample reports that point out people belonging to particular ethnic groups and race tend to develop sarcoidosis. For instance, natives of Ireland, Scandinavia and Germany are at higher risk of getting sarcoidosis. People of African origin also carry a certain amount of risk of sarcoidosis. The likelihood of getting sarcoidosis is also found to be more in women than in men.
Most doctors perform a physical examination to look for symptoms of sarcoidosis, such as swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen, or redness in the eyes. A chest X-ray can also help detect enlarged lymph nodes in the chest. About 95% of patients suffering from sarcoidosis show abnormal chest X-rays. The doctor may also check the heart and lungs of the patient. Abnormal heartbeat and wheezy breathing may be an indication of the heart or lungs being affected by this disease. A biopsy, a procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed from the affected organ for examination, is the best way to confirm the diagnosis.
Whether the patient needs treatment or not depends on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment is usually not given to patients who have mild symptoms of sarcoidosis, as side effects of drug therapy outweigh possible benefits. If the disease is not worsening, then the doctor may not prescribe any medicines.
Drug treatment is helpful to reduce inflammation of the affected organs. Corticosteroids are effectively used to control the symptoms. These steroids relieve symptoms within 3 to 4 months and prevent lung scarring. An oral corticosteroid, known as prednisone, is commonly used to treat this disease and majority of patients respond positively to this medicine. When these steroids are prescribed, the patient must meet the doctor for regular check-ups, so that the disorder can be monitored effectively.
Following good health practices is the best way to prevent sarcoidosis. As the disease commonly affects the lungs, one must avoid smoking. One must also avoid exposure to toxic inhalants, gases, and fumes that harm the lungs. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can also help prevent sarcoidosis.