Sarcoidosis

Also called sarcoid or Besnier-Boeck disease

Sarcoidosis (pronounced sar-koy-DOH-sis) is a rare disease that leads to inflammation in any part of the body, but most commonly in the lungs, skin or lymph nodes.

Key points

  1. Sarcoidosis starts as tiny, grain-like lumps called granulomas that cause the inflammation.
  2. There is no known cause of sarcoidosis.
  3. It can affect people of any age, but occurs mostly in people aged between 20 to 50 years.
  4. It is most common in people of African American and Northern European origin.

Types

There are two forms of sarcoidosis: acute (the most common) and chronic.

In acute sarcoidosis, symptoms last for a few years, then clear and never return. With chronic sarcoidosis, symptoms do not go away. Granulomas are widespread in one or more organs and can prevent the organ from working properly. 

The impact of chronic sarcoidosis is higher than the acute form and a range of treatments may be needed.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis vary depending on which organs are affected. Many people do not have any symptoms, others may have one or more of the following:

  • a persistent dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • fatigue
  • skin lesions such as tender, red bumps.

Diagnosis

Tests for sarcoidosis include:

  • chest x-ray (most common test for diagnosis)
  • lung function tests
  • an eye examination
  • CT scan to look for enlarged lymph nodes
  • bronchoscopy (a procedure to view your lungs and airways)
  • tissue biopsy to look for granulomas.

Treatment

Not everyone who has sarcoidosis needs treatment. Whether you need treatment and what type of treatment you need depend on:

  • your signs and symptoms
  • which organs are affected
  • how severely these organs are affected.

The goals of treatment include:

  • relieving symptoms
  • improving organ function
  • controlling inflammation  
  • reducing the size of granulomas (inflamed lumps)
  • preventing pulmonary fibrosis (lung scarring) if your lungs are affected.

Mild disease

Monitoring is all that is needed. Your doctor will watch you closely to see whether the disease goes away on its own.

Moderate to serious disease

In these cases, medication may be needed. The main course of treatment is with prednisone, a type of steroid. This reduces the inflammation caused by the granulomas. Other treatments sometimes include methotrexate with or without prednisone.

If these are not effective there are other medications that can be prescribed.

Learn more

Sarcoidosis factsheet Better Health Channel
Sarcoidosis summary NHS Choices
Sarcoidosis Medline Plus
Sarcoidosis fact sheet World Trade Center Health Registry

Credits: Written by Health Navigator. Latest update January 2015.. Last reviewed: 19 Jan 2015