April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month and Dr. Alicia Arnold joined us to share more information about this condition.
Meghan Kulig: Can you give us an overview of this disease?
Dr. Arnold: Our body's immune system helps protect us from disease and infection. In sarcoidosis, the body's immune system overreacts, causing damage. The immune system cells can form tiny lumps in your organs called granulomas.
Meghan Kulig: How common is it?
Dr. Arnold: It's difficult to put an exact number on it, because some people don't know that they have it. Estimates range from 1 to 40 cases per 100,000 in our country. It frequently develops in people sometime between young adulthood and middle age. Anyone can get it, but it seems to be more common in African Americans, and people of Scandinavian heritage. Women are affected more often than men.
Meghan Kulig: How do people get this disease?
Dr. Arnold: Doctors aren't certain why some people get sarcoidosis. The most common theory is that some people have a pre-existing genetic risk, and then exposure to something in the environment, like a virus or bacteria, could bring on symptoms. Symptoms may come on suddenly or gradually.
Meghan Kulig: What are some symptoms?
Dr. Arnold: It depends on what organ is affected by the disease. Most often it affects the lungs, so there can be respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath or coughing. It can cause enlarged lymph nodes, or a rash on the skin, or affect other organs like the liver, heart, brain, or eyes. Some people that have it aren't aware of any symptoms.
Meghan Kulig: How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?
Dr. Arnold: Symptoms of sarcoidosis can mimic other diseases, so it may not be straightforward to diagnose, and can be a process of elimination. X-rays, lung tests, skin or eye exams, and biopsies are among the ways a person may be diagnosed. If a person has an x-ray for another reason, sometimes evidence of the disease is found incidentally.
Meghan Kulig: What are the treatment options?
Dr. Arnold: The good news is that sarcoidosis often goes away on its own, so treatment may not be necessary in some cases. There is no known cure for sarcoidosis, but medications, for example steroids, may be prescribed to control the inflammation and help organ function. Since sarcoidosis often affects the lungs, it is very important that people who have this disease don't smoke.