What Is Sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that primarily affects the lungs and breathing, although any organ in the body may be involved. The Division of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at the University of Michigan has developed a dedicated Sarcoidosis Clinic to comprehensively treat sarcoidosis patients with all severities of disease, using a multidisciplinary approach to care for the whole person.

Sarcoidosis is an interstitial lung disease, which is a large group of lung disorders that affect the tissues of the lungs and generally cause lung scarring.  Inflammation from sarcoidosis can lead to scarring, or thickening of the walls of the lungs, making it difficult to move oxygen into (and carbon dioxide out of) the bloodstream.

Sarcoidosis Symptoms and Facts

Symptoms of sarcoidosis vary widely depending on the organs involved:

  • In the lungs: persistent cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath (these are the most common symptoms of the disease)
  • In the skin: rashes, skin discoloration
  • In the brain: Bell’s palsy, numbness, or tingling in the arm or leg
  • In the eye: blurry vision, painful red eyes
  • In the bone: bone pain
  • In the bone marrow: fatigue, anemia
  • In the heart: abnormal heart rhythm (can cause sudden death)

What you should know about sarcoidosis:

  • In those who are diagnosed with sarcoidosis, almost two-thirds will get better on their own (or with medication) over 1-2 years.
  • The lungs are affected by sarcoidosis more than 90% of the time, likely because it’s thought to be triggered by inhaling some unknown irritant. There is also a genetic predisposition to developing sarcoidosis.
  • Once lung scarring occurs, it generally can’t be reversed.
  • There is higher prevalence in the U.S. African-American population than in Caucasians. Women are affected slightly more commonly than men.
  • There is an increase in the number of cases being diagnosed; however, the disease is still considered a rare disorder.

Multidisciplinary Care to Treat the Whole Person

Our team of physicians diagnoses and treats each patient individually, which is especially important with a disease such as sarcoidosis where multiple organs can be affected. We collaborate with physicians from many disciplines, including Rheumatology, Dermatology, Ophthalmology, Cardiology, Nephrology (kidney), Gastroenterology, Hematology, Neurology, and Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists). Clinicians collaborate to determine the appropriate approach to take for each person. It’s a true team effort.

Diagnosing Sarcoidosis

To diagnose sarcoidosis, we collect a thorough history and conduct a comprehensive physical exam. Blood tests are ordered to determine various organ involvement. We will review your past medical records and, if available, prior biopsy slides and imaging studies.

If there is concern that sarcoidosis could be affecting other organs, specific exams may be ordered, such as an MRI to check for inflammation in the brain.

Sarcoidosis is most often identified on chest x-ray or CT scan. Often, an x-ray will reveal enlarged lymph nodes in the chest. Occasionally, there will also be changes that look like pneumonia in the lungs that do not clear up after a course of antibiotics.

Diagnosis is confirmed when there is biopsy proof of granulomas—small lumps that appear in the affected tissues—along with exclusion of anything else that can cause granulomas, such as fungal infections, bacterial infections, lymphoma, or vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels).

Sarcoidosis Treatment

For the majority of patients, sarcoidosis is a mild disease that often does not require therapy. For those patients who do require treatment, steroids are the most commonly used, although other immunosuppressants may also be used. Most treatment is handled on an outpatient basis.

If there is severe enough lung damage, a lung transplant may be considered.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment to be evaluated for sarcoidosis, call us at  888-287-1084.