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Sarcoidosis - The Disease with Many Faces

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/25/2007 | Health

Sarcoidosis is a disease with a dozen faces. The disease is a chronic condition that may affect almost any part of the body. Its predominant manifestation is in the lungs. Sarcoidosis, known by some as Sarcoid or Boeck's disease, is a multi-system auto-immune disease. It is most common in adults between 20 and 40 years of age; with an incidence of 10 to 40 per 100,000 people a year. In about 80% of the cases, sarcoidosis is self-limiting resulting in minimal discomfort, or debilitation. Sarcoidosis is a disease that can affect any organ in the body, is not contagious, and is not a cancer. Sarcoidosis is rarely fatal and is not an active infection. The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. This is a medical mystery, an inflammatory disease without a know cause and without a cure. Sarcoidosis is a significant cause of Bullous Emphysema. Childhood sarcoidosis is an even more rare multi-system granulomatous disease. For some reason African Americans tend to have a more severe disease and tend to require stronger treatments.

This chronic inflammatory disease is characterized by small bumps, known as granulomas. These granulomas can occur in any area of the body, but are most often in the lungs, lymph nodes eyes, and skin. In 90 percent of the diagnosed cases, the inflammation is in the lungs and is called pulmonary sarcoidosis. The granulomas affect how well a gas moves into the bloodstream from the lungs. Pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure in the lungs, can be caused by sarcoidosis if severe lung scarring is present, Shortness of breath, cough, chest pain and tightness are the common complaints of patients with sarcoidosis of the lungs. At this time, there is no treatment available to reverse the pulmonary fibrosis (scarring on the lungs) that may accompany severe sarcoidosis. People with this disease should not smoke, and should avoid exposure to substances such as dust and chemicals that can harm the lungs.

Granulomatous fungal infections mimic sarcoidosis worldwide. Hodgkin's disease with granulomatous pulmonary presentation can also mimic sarcoidosis. A chest x-ray and possibly a high resolution CT of the lungs are useful in proper diagnosis. These test are most often performed when there is evidence of inflammation in the lungs.

Treatments are usually taken to control the symptoms of sarcoidosis, or to improve the function of organs, or body systems affected by the disease. Treatment for sarcoidosis will suppress it but cannot guarantee to get rid of it once and for all. Conventional medical treatments may help relieve the symptoms but they do no address the root of the problem. A variety of treatments have been used in sarcoidosis. Several treatments for sarcoidosis have been tested to evaluate their ability to modify the abnormal immunological response that characterizes this disease. New and more effective treatments need to be developed through medical research to control, or perhaps even cure sarcoidosis. Modern medical treatments are still far from satisfactory.

Sarcoidosis is a multi-organ system disease with no known cause. It is a disease in which abnormal collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) form in many organs of the body. We know that the disease is usually not crippling. Sarcoidosis is believed to be short lived (approx 2 years) in a majority (approx 60%) of patients. More research needs to be done on sarcoidosis. This very rare disease remains a "mystery disease" of modern medicine.