Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is a rare condition that causes small patches of red, swollen tissue (granulomas) to develop in the body's organs, usually the lungs and skin. It can affect people of all ages but usually develops aged between 20 and 40. It’s more common in women and people of African descent.

Symptoms of sarcoidosis

There are two types of sarcoidosis.

They are:

  • acute sarcoidosis – symptoms develop suddenly, but usually clear within a few months or years and the condition doesn't come back
  • chronic sarcoidosis - symptoms develop gradually and get worse over time, to the point where they become severe (lots of granulomas may form in an organ and prevent it from working properly)

The symptoms of sarcoidosis depend on which organs are affected, but typically include:

It's impossible to predict how sarcoidosis will affect a person. The condition can affect any organ and the symptoms vary widely depending on which organs are involved.

Sarcoidosis most often affects:

  • the lungs
  • skin
  • lymph nodes (glands)

Some of the typical symptoms are listed below.

Lung symptoms

The lungs are affected in about 90 per cent of people with sarcoidosis. This is known as pulmonary sarcoidosis. The two main symptoms are shortness of breath and a persistent dry cough. Some people with pulmonary sarcoidosis experience pain and discomfort in their chest, but this is uncommon.

Skin symptoms

The skin is affected in about 25 per cent of people with sarcoidosis. This can cause tender, red bumps or patches to develop on the skin (particularly the shins) and rashes on the upper body.

Other symptoms

If other organs are affected, you may have some of the following symptoms:

Causes of sarcoidosis

It's thought that sarcoidosis happens because the immune system starts to attack its own tissues and organs. The resulting inflammation then causes granulomas, (granulated areas of inflammation in tissue) to develop in the organs.

Similar conditions include:

These are collectively known as autoimmune conditions.

It's possible that some environmental factors may trigger the condition in people who are already genetically susceptible to it.

Sarcoidosis can occasionally occur in more than one family member. There's no evidence that the condition is inherited. The condition isn't infectious, so it can't be passed from person to person.

Who's affected

Sarcoidosis can affect people of any age, but usually starts in young adults aged between 20 and 40. It's rare in childhood. The condition affects people from all ethnic backgrounds, but it's most common in people of African descent. It's also more common in women than men.

Diagnosing sarcoidosis

A number of different tests may be carried out to diagnose sarcoidosis, depending on which organs are affected.

The health professional looking after your care will discuss the different tests with you. These may include:

  • a chest X-ray
  • a computerised tomography (CT) scan of your lungs to look for signs of the condition
  • a biopsy
  • scans or examinations of other organs, such as the skin, heart or eyes

Treatment for sarcoidosis

Most people with sarcoidosis don't need treatment as the condition often goes away on its own, usually within a few months or years.

Simple lifestyle changes and over-the-counter painkillers (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) are often all that's needed to control the pain of any flare-ups.

Doctors will monitor your condition to check if it's getting any better or worse without treatment.

This can be done with:

If you require treatment your doctor will recommend the best option for you based on your situation.

Living with sarcoidosis

SarcoidosisUK recommends the following lifestyle measures if you have sarcoidosis:

  • stop smoking, if you smoke
  • avoid exposure to dust, chemicals, fumes and toxic gases
  • eat a healthy balanced diet
  • drink plenty of water
  • get plenty of exercise and sleep

 

Outlook

Symptoms of sarcoidosis can usually be managed with over-the-counter painkillers so they don't affect everyday life. Most people with the condition find their symptoms have disappeared within a few years of their diagnosis.

For some people with sarcoidosis, the condition slowly gets worse over time and they end up with organ damage. For example, their lungs may stop working properly, causing increasing breathlessness.

Help is available for people with severe, persistent sarcoidosis – ask your doctor for advice and visit SarcoidosisUK or the British Lung Foundation.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published May 2018

This page is due for review June 2019

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