Sarcoidosis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease with no known cause. It causes the body's immune cells to clump together and form granulomas, which, over time, can cause organ damage. Symptoms vary according to the organs affected, but many complain of joint and muscle pain, enlarged lymph nodes, and difficulty breathing. Others have no symptoms.

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease characterized as "a multisystem inflammatory disease of unknown etiology." As part of the immune response to harmful substances, the body releases specialized cells, which emit chemicals that isolate and kill the substance. Part of the process involves inflammation, which dissipates on its own in most people.

While sarcoidosis can strike anyone, male or female, of any age, there may be an ethnic component in risk factors for sarcoidosis. It occurs most often in people of Asian, African-American, German, Irish, Puerto Rican, and Scandinavian descent. The most common age span for onset is between 20 and 40 years old. Additionally, it is more common in African American women than in African American men. How sarcoidosis manifests often varies according to the individual's ethnic background.

When the body produces an immune response in reaction to a harmful foreign substance, inflammation eventually goes away on its own. However, in people with sarcoidosis, inflammation persists, resulting in cells grouping together, forming granulomas. Granulomas form in various parts of the body, but most commonly in the lungs and lymph nodes. Granulomas are tiny lumps that clump together, forming larger lumps that interfere with organ function. In addition to the lungs and lymph nodes, sarcoidosis may appear in the eyes, skin, heart, and brain. Symptoms of sarcoidosis somewhat depend upon the organs involved.

Symptoms of Sarcoidosis

  • Some people have fever, arthritis, and enlarged and tender lymph nodes.
  • When present in the lungs, sarcoidosis may cause wheezing, coughing, pain, and shortness of breath.
  • Some suffer from a reddish rash, usually on the lower legs, called erythema nodosum.
  • The disease may bring about ulcers, sores, and discoloration on the skin, usually on the back, scalp, and extremities. They may also show up near the nose and eyes, and generally last a long time.
  • Some sarcoidosis sufferers experience fatigue, along with feelings of depression.
  • Unexplained weight loss is another symptom of the disease.
  • Enlarged liver, spleen, or salivary glands are symptoms of sarcoidosis.
Sarcoidosis may be mild or severe. Severe cases may lead to organ damage. However, many people have the disease and do not have any symptoms. In addition to a complete medical exam, diagnosing sarcoidosis often includes chest X-rays, and/or chest CTs.

While some people with sarcoidosis have organ damage, the condition is rarely fatal. The majority of people recover with no permanent problems. Those with the highest risk of long-term problems are those who suffer from chronic sarcoidosis, such as those with scarring of the lungs, who develop a specific type of lupus called lupus perneo, or those with brain and heart involvement.

Treating sarcoidosis rests upon identifying the organs involved and then prescribing appropriate treatments to reduce or eliminate inflammation, discomfort, and potential organ damage. Medscape reports that the vast majority of sarcoidosis patients require only treatment to alleviate symptoms using NSAIDs. However, immune-suppressant drugs and steroids such as prednisone are often use in treating sarcoidosis, as are inhaled medicines that alleviate breathing and coughing issues. 

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about sarcoidosis, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: August 1, 2023


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