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Learn About Sarcoidosis

Support provided by an unrestricted educational grant from Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

Sarcoidosis is a disease of unknown origin that can cause lung damage, skin rashes, and eye disease and can affect other organs of the body.

Key Facts

  • Sarcoidosis causes your immune system to overreact, which can cause health issues. People with sarcoidosis have clusters of inflamed tissue called "granulomas" in different places in their bodies.
  • Sarcoidosis often improves without treatment.
  • Sarcoidosis occurs more often in African-Americans than in Caucasians, and African-Americans may experience more severe symptoms.

What Is Sarcoidosis?

While no one knows what causes sarcoidosis, it is associated with increased immune system activity. This causes clusters of immune cells called granulomas to infiltrate your organs and lymph nodes. Sarcoidosis most commonly affects your lungs, but it can affect any organ in your body. People over the age of 20 and women are more likely to develop sarcoidosis. Many patients never have symptoms, and the disease is diagnosed only because a chest X-ray is taken for another reason. In most of these cases, the disease improves by itself. However, your overactive immune system may lead to problems with different organs of the body and lead to cough, shortness of breath, night sweats, joint pain and fatigue. Up to 30% of patients with sarcoidosis have symptoms improve without treatment.

How Sarcoidosis Affects Your Body

If you have sarcoidosis, the increased inflammation in your body may cause flu-like symptoms such as night sweats, joint pain and fatigue. This inflammation can lead to scar tissue in your lungs while also making them function more poorly. Many people with sarcoidosis also have skin and eye damage in addition to lung disease. Occasionally, those with sarcoidosis develop granulomas and inflammation in their hearts, which can trigger abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure.

How Serious Is Sarcoidosis?

Although sarcoidosis can affect anyone, African-Americans have a higher incidence of sarcoidosis than do Caucasian Americans.

Many people diagnosed with sarcoidosis never have symptoms, but it can cause shortness of breath and loss of lung function and sometimes permanently damage your lungs. In very few cases, sarcoidosis can be life-threatening if it causes heart or severe lung disease. If your symptoms last more than 2 years despite treatment, your disease is considered chronic, and the symptoms may worsen your quality of life. A few people with severe heart or lung disease require heart or lung transplants. You also may have sarcoidosis flare-ups, even after your disease has been inactive.

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    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: October 2, 2019

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