Sarcoidosis Causes and Risk Factors

What causes sarcoidosis?

Your immune system creates inflammation to help defend you against germs and sickness. But in sarcoidosis, inflammation goes off track and the cells in your immune system form lumps, called granulomas, in your body. Over time, inflammation may lead to permanent scarring of organs.

    The illustration shows the major signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis and the organs involved.
The  illustration shows a close-up view of granulomas, or lumps, and scarring on the lungs. It also shows larger than normal lymph nodes near the lungs.

Studies suggest that some immune system triggers can lead to sarcoidosis in certain people. Triggers can include infections without symptoms or coming into contact with substances in the environment. Your genes can affect how your immune system reacts to a trigger.

What raises your risk of sarcoidosis?

There are many risk factors for sarcoidosis. Some risk factors, such as where you work, can be changed. But your age, family history, and many other risk factors cannot be changed.

  • Age: You can get sarcoidosis at any age, but the risk goes up as you get older, especially after age 55.
  • Environment: Living or working near insecticides, mold, or other substances that may cause inflammation raises your risk. You may be around these substances if you are in health care or the automotive industry or are a farmer or firefighter.
  • Family history and genetics: Having a close relative with sarcoidosis raises your risk.
  • Medicines: Certain types of HIV medicines and monoclonal antibodies used to treat cancer or overactive immune system can raise your risk.
  • Race or ethnicity: Your risk is higher if you are of African or Scandinavian descent.
  • Sex: Women are more likely to have sarcoidosis, although men can also have it.

Other medical conditions, such as lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, can also lead to sarcoidosis.

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