What is Sarcoidosis?
There are some diseases and disorders that most people just don’t know much about, and Sarcoidosis is one of them, despite the fact that this disease is actually not uncommon. Perhaps people aren’t very familiar with this disease simply because it’s often not very serious, because it can manifest in non-visible parts of the body, or because it often doesn’t even require treatment. Whatever the reason, Sarcoidosis just doesn’t come up often in conversation.
So, What is Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease in which little bunches of abnormal tissue, call granulomas, form in the body. Although granulomas, which are actually composed of immune cells, can form in or on nearly any organ of the body, they most frequently form in the lungs. However, it is not unusual for inflammation related to Sarcoidosis to happen in the eyes, skin, liver, or lymph nodes as well.
Much more common in Americans of African descent than in Americans of European descent, and also more common in women than in men, Sarcoidosis typically manifests between ages 20 and 40. In particular, people who have had at least one close relative diagnosed with this disease have five times the risk of developing Sarcoidosis.
There is a hereditary component to Sarcoidosis, and it’s also more common in people who are very sensitive to environmental factors and those who have significantly increased immune responses when faced with infection.
How Do I Know if I Have Sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis often lacks noticeable symptoms initially because it forms gradually and is often completely internal. However, nearly everyone with Sarcoidosis eventually develops one or more of these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- A frequent, dry cough
- Pain in the chest behind the sternum
Patients may also experience general discomfort symptoms such as fatigue, achiness, weight loss, joint pain, or fever in addition to skin, hair, nervous system, and eye problems. If you experience any of these symptoms, particularly heart palpitations, vision changes, and/or difficulty breathing, talk to your doctor. S/he can run the necessary tests to determine if you have Sarcoidosis (or another disease or disorder), and then develop a treatment plan.
Fortunately, Sarcoidosis is often so mild that it goes away all by itself. However, it does sometimes require treatment with steroids and/or immunosuppressant drugs, and it can have serious impacts on your health and your daily functioning. If you are on these medications, wearing medical ID jewelry is imperative, because all medical personnel working with you, in emergencies and on a daily basis, need to know about the medications you’re taking. Additionally, these medications can have side effects that ultimately mean first responders need to know what you are taking if they are to help you properly in an emergency.
Lastly, people with Sarcoidosis can experience fainting spells, severe headaches, and seizures, all of which can require emergency medical attention and can render you unable to advocate for yourself. So it’s important, when diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, to discuss your risk factors for these symptoms with your doctor so you can determine whether you need to wear a medical ID bracelet to protect yourself in the event of an emergency.
April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month. For more information on Sarcoidosis, click here to visit The National Sarcoidosis Society.