What is Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis (pronounced sar-coy-doe-sis) is a diseased caused by small areas of inflammation.  90% of cases are in the lungs (pulmonary sarcoidosis), but it can affect any part of the body including the skin, liver, lymph glands, spleen, eyes, nervous system, muscles, bones, heart, and kidneys.

Sarcoidosis causes the immune system to overact and damage the body’s own tissues.  It creates clumps of inflamed cells that can interfere with an organ’s normal functions.

The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown.  It is not contagious and most researchers believe that it is an immune system disorder caused by a failure in the body’s natural defense system.  Others believe that it may be the result of a viral respiratory infection or environmental toxins and allergens.  These triggers generally do not bother most people, but can provoke the immune system to develop inflammation in people prone to sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosis appears to be affected by genetics and someone is more likely to develop the disease if a close family member has also had it.  In the United States, sarcoidosis is most common among African Americans and those of Scandinavian descent.  It generally affects people between the ages of 20 and 40, but it can also affect people over 60.  Women are more likely to be affected by it than men.

Sarcoidosis is usually a mild, temporary condition.  However, pulmonary sarcoidosis can be dangerous and 20-30% of people who contract it end up permanent lung damage.  A small portion of these have chronic sarcoidosis which can last for many years.

In pulmonary sarcoidosis, small groups of inflamed cells appear on the alveoli (air sacs), bronchioles (breathing tubes), or lymph nodes.  The lungs may become stiff and unable to hold as much air.  Sarcoidosis can also cause scar tissue called pulmonary fibrosis, which affects the lungs’ ability to pump oxygen into the bloodstream.

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