Sarcoidosis (sar-koy-DO-sis) is a disease of unknown cause that leads to inflammation. This disease affects your body’s organs.
Normally, your immune system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. For example, it sends special cells to protect organs that are in danger.
These cells release chemicals that recruit other cells to isolate and destroy the harmful substance. Inflammation occurs during this process. Once the harmful substance is gone, the cells and the inflammation go away.
In people who have sarcoidosis, the inflammation doesn't go away. Instead, some of the immune system cells cluster to form lumps called granulomas (gran-yu-LO-mas) in various organs in your body.
Sarcoidosis can affect any organ in your body. However, it's more likely to affect some organs than others. The disease usually starts in the lungs, skin, and/or lymph nodes (especially the lymph nodes in your chest).
Also, the disease often affects the eyes and liver. Although less common, sarcoidosis can affect the heart and brain, leading to serious complications.
If many granulomas form in an organ, they can affect how the organ works. This can cause signs and symptoms. Signs and symptoms vary depending on which organs are affected. Many people who have sarcoidosis have no signs or symptoms or mild ones.
Lofgren's syndrome is a classic set of signs and symptoms that is typical in some people who have sarcoidosis. Lofgren's syndrome may cause fever, enlarged lymph nodes, arthritis (usually in the ankles), and/or erythema nodosum (er-ih-THE-ma no-DO-sum).
Erythema nodosum is a rash of red or reddish-purple bumps on your ankles and shins. The rash may be warm and tender to the touch.
Treatment for sarcoidosis varies depending on which organs are affected. Your doctor may prescribe topical treatments and/or medicines to treat the disease. Not everyone who has sarcoidosis needs treatment.
The outlook for sarcoidosis varies. Many people recover from the disease with few or no long-term problems.
More than half of the people who have sarcoidosis have remission within 3 years of diagnosis. “Remission” means the disease isn't active, but it can return.
Two-thirds of people who have the disease have remission within 10 years of diagnosis. People who have Lofgren's syndrome usually have remission. Relapse (return of the disease) 1 or more years after remission occurs in less than 5 percent of patients.
Sarcoidosis leads to organ damage in about one-third of the people diagnosed with the disease. Damage may occur over many years and involve more than one organ. Rarely, sarcoidosis can be fatal. Death usually is the result of problems with the lungs, heart, or brain.
Poor outcomes are more likely in people who have advanced disease and show little improvement from treatment.
Certain people are at higher risk for poor outcomes from chronic (long-term) sarcoidosis. This includes people who have lung scarring, heart or brain complications, or lupus pernio (LU-pus PUR-ne-o). Lupus pernio is a serious skin condition that sarcoidosis may cause.
Research is ongoing for new and better treatments for sarcoidosis.
Living With and Managing Sarcoidosis05/18/2011
This video—presented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health—shows how Romaine, an executive and wife, has coped with having sarcoidosis. Although she had no symptoms, Romaine learned she had sarcoidosis of the lung as the result of testing done for another reason.
Prior to being diagnosed with sarcoidosis, Romaine had never heard of the disease. Within about 5 years of her diagnosis, she began having symptoms. Her symptoms started with a dry cough, which became chronic about a year after it first developed.
Unable to speak a sentence without coughing, Romaine began taking medicine to treat her sarcoidosis. Also, she began to focus on following a healthy lifestyle, including eating well and being physically active. By following her treatment plan and making lifestyle changes, Romaine is able to live a full, active life.
For more information about living with and managing sarcoidosis, go to the Health Topics Sarcoidosis article.