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What Is Sarcoidosis Disease

By: Donna Chaffins | Date: August 9, 2008 | Categories: Family and Health, In The News

In light of the sad news today that actor and comedian, Bernie Mac passed away, from complications of pneumonia, and also suffered from sarcoidosis; I wanted to learn more about this disease.

Here is what I discovered about sarcoidosis disease:

What is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a disease that results from a specific type of inflammation of tissues of the body. It can appear in almost any body organ, but it starts most often in the lungs or lymph nodes.

The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. The disease can appear suddenly and disappear.  It can also develop gradually and go on to produce symptoms that come and go, sometimes for a lifetime.

Sarcoidosis comes from the Greek words "sarx" and "oid," meaning flesh-like. The term describes the skin eruptions that are frequently caused by the illness.

What are the symptoms of sarcoidosis?

Shortness of breath (dyspnea) and a cough that won't go away can be among the first symptoms of sarcoidosis.  But sarcoidosis can also show up suddenly with the appearance of skin rashes.  Red bumps (erythema nodosum) on the face, arms, or shins and inflammation of the eyes are also common symptoms. 

It is not unusual, however, for sarcoidosis symptoms to be more general. Weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, fever, or just an overall feeling of ill health can also be clues to the disease.

Please don't diagnose yourself if you have any or all of these symptoms.  Many of this symptoms can also be present in other medical conditions – some serious, some not so serious.

Who can get sarcoidosis?

It was once considered a rare disease, but we now know it is a chronic illness that appears all over the world.  In fact, it is the most common of the scarring lung disorders.

It has occurred often enough in the United States for Congress to declare a national Sarcoidosis Awareness Day in 1990.

Anyone can get sarcoidosis. It occurs in all races and in both sexes. However, for reasons they don't understand yet, the risk is greater if you are a young black adult, especially black women, as well as Scandinavian, German, Irish or Puerto Rican origin.  Check out MedicineNet.com for information and statistics.

What we know about sarcoidosis

There is no evidence that sarcoidosis is hereditary.  It is not a contagious disease, so your family or friends will not catch it from you.  Unfortunately, much about sarcoidosis is unknown.

If you have the disease, be reassured that it usually is not crippling.  In fact, it usually goes away by itself, with most cases healing in 24 to 36 months.

Signs and symptoms

The lungs are usually the first site involved in sarcoidosis. Indeed, about nine out of 10 sarcoidosis patients have some type of lung problem, with nearly one-third of these patients showing some respiratory symptoms—usually coughing, either dry or with phlegm, and dyspnea (shortness of breath). Occasionally, patients have chest pain and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

It is thought that sarcoidosis of the lungs begins with inflammation of the alveoli (alveolitis), the tiny sac-like air spaces in the lungs where carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged. Alveolitis either clears up spontaneously or leads to granuloma formation. Eventually fibrosis can form, causing the lung to stiffen and making breathing even more difficult.

There are many more symptoms but the ones involving the lungs are the most common.

How is sarcoidosis treated?

Fortunately, many patients with sarcoidosis require no treatment. Symptoms, after all, are usually not disabling and do tend to disappear spontaneously.

When therapy is recommended, the main goal is to keep the lungs and other affected body organs working and to relieve symptoms.  The disease is considered inactive once the symptoms fade.  After many years of experience with treating the disease, corticosteroid drugs remain the primary treatment for inflammation and granuloma formation. Predisone is probably the corticosteroid most often prescribed today.  There is no treatment at present to reverse the lung scarring (fibrosis) that might be present in advanced sarcoidosis.  More than one test is needed to diagnose sarcoidosis.

In summation:

  • Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes inflammation of body tissues.
  • The cause of sarcoidosis is not known.
  • Sarcoidosis commonly affects the lungs and skin.
  • Many patients with sarcoidosis require no treatment.
  • For more severe disease, cortisone-related medications are used.  Other treatments are considered, as above, depending on what areas of the body are affected and to what degree.

We have learned that it isn't a death sentence!  There isn't anything we can do to protect ourselves from getting sarcoidosis disease, at least today.  Hopefully though, researchers will learn more about sarcoidosis.  So that one day we will be able to cure those with this disease and learn how to protect ourselves so that no one else will develop it.

Source:  Wikipedia and Medicinenet.com

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