Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can affect almost any organ in the body, although it most commonly appears in the lungs. In general, this disease causes heightened immunity, meaning that instead of your immune system protecting your body from disease and infection, it overreacts and causes damage to organs and tissues.
The classic feature of sarcoidosis is the formation of microscopic clumps of cells called granulomas. When too many of these clumps appear in an organ of the body, it can hamper bodily functions. In addition to the lungs, these cell clumps also often appear in the lymph nodes, eyes and skin.
There are no known causes of sarcoidosis, but it may be due to excessive sensitivity to environmental factors, genetics or an extreme immune response to infection.
Signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis vary greatly depending upon the person, the organs or tissues affected and the length of time a person has been affected with the disease. Often, a person displays no symptoms of the disease, so it may not be discovered until it appears in a chest X-ray.
If the disease occurs in the lungs or chest, you may experience:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort behind your breast bone
- Abnormal breathing sounds
- General discomfort including malaise, fatigue, fever, weight loss, night sweats and joint pain
If the disease occurs in the skin, you may observe:
- Skin rashes
- Old scars raising above the skin
- Raised, red, firm skin sores, most often on the front part of the legs (erythema nodosum)
- Discoloration of the nose, cheeks, lips and ears (lupus pernio)
- Skin lesions
- Hair loss
If the disease occurs in your nervous systems or your eyes, you may experience:
- Weakness or paralysis on one side of the face
- Burning sensations, itching or discharge in the eyes
- Decreased tearing
Other symptoms of the disease include enlarged lymph glands, such as a lump in the armpit, on the neck or in the groin; palpitations; an enlarged liver or spleen; dry mouth or nosebleed.
Although anyone can develop sarcoidosis, the disease most often occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 and more often in women than men. In the United States, African- Americans are more likely to have the disease. You are more likely to be at risk if someone in your family has had sarcoidosis.