April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month

The cause of the lung disease sarcoidosis is unknown. Doctors speculate that it may have a genetic component, though it appears to be triggered by airborne bacteria.

The symptoms to look for are fatigue, fever, shortness of breath and swelling of the lymph nodes. Since sarcoidosis is a lung disease, almost all patients eventually develop a dry cough with wheezing, and most will experience chest pains. About one in four patients also develop skin symptoms. These include a rash, typically on the shins; sores on the nose, ears, and cheeks; and localized changes in skin color.

Symptoms typically develop between ages 20 and 40. Doctors usually diagnose sarcoidosis by taking X-rays or CT scans of the chest. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between sarcoidosis and tuberculosis. Another, more reliable test called a lung gallium scan can find the specific site of inflammation, if any, and better distinguish the two conditions. For a lung gallium scan, the element gallium is injected. Then, doctors use a special scanner to see the lungs as outlined by the gallium.

Treatment for sarcoidosis can be complicated, as is often the case with autoimmune diseases. One approach is a corticosteroid such as Prednisone. The most common treatment for sarcoidosis is immunosuppressant medications, most commonly a drug called methotrexate. However, as many as half of all untreated cases clear up inside of three years. Deaths from sarcoidosis are rare, but patients are at increased risk for glaucoma and kidney stones.

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