Sarcoidosis is a disease that leads to inflammation in the organs of your body.

The condition occurs when inflammatory cells grow in the organs, most commonly the lungs (called pulmonary sarcoidosis), lymph nodes, eyes, and skin. These tiny groups of cells are called granulomas, notes the Mayo Clinic.
According to the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, sarcoidosis heals on its own about 60 percent of the time.When it doesn't, treating its symptoms can help improve the function of the lungs and other organs. Many people will recover without lasting complications.But for others, the disease is progressive and, in serious cases, an organ transplant may be necessary.

Causes and Risk Factors of Sarcoidosis

The exact cause of sarcoidosis is unknown. But it's thought that a combination of genetic predisposition and exposure to environmental triggers (such as dust or mold) may be responsible, and that sarcoidosis is the result of the immune system’s trying to ward off an unknown substance, most likely inhaled from the air, according to the American Lung Association.

When the immune system is functioning properly, inflammation occurs as immune cells attempt to fight an "attack" from a foreign substance (from germs like bacteria and viruses). In someone who has sarcoidosis, however, those cells instead cluster together and form lumps (granulomas) in the organs.

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop sarcoidosis, but the following factors may increase your risk:

  • Age and Sex Sarcoidosis often occurs between the ages of 20 and 40 years. Women are more likely to develop sarcoidosis.
  • Genetics People of African descent and those of Scandinavian descent have a higher risk of sarcoidosis.
  • Having a Close Family Member With Sarcoidosis Researchers haven't found a gene (or genes) linked to sarcoidosis, but studies have shown an elevated risk for those with a family history of the disease, according to the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research.

Duration of Sarcoidosis

As noted above, a majority of people with sarcoidosis experience remission within two to five years. But for about 10 to 30 percent of people, the disease is chronic and progressive, according to the Cleveland Clinic.Monitoring and care may be lifelong.

Complications of Sarcoidosis

As a result of severe inflammation, sarcoidosis can cause serious, and sometimes life-threatening, damage to the organs it affects. According to the NHLBI, these complications can include:
  • Blindness
  • Blood and bone marrow problems
  • Endocrine conditions, including hypercalcemia (too much calcium in your blood), diabetes insipidus (a disorder in which your kidneys pass excessive amounts of urine), and amenorrhea (lack of a menstrual period)
  • Heart complications, such as arrhythmia, heart failure, cardiac arrest, and cardiomyopathy
  • Kidney problems, such as kidney stones or kidney failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Lung diseases, such as pulmonary hypertension and pulmonary fibrosis (scarring on the lungs)
  • Nervous system problems, including brain tumors, meningitis, hydrocephalus, and nerve pain

Black Americans and Sarcoidosis

According to the American Lung Association, Black Americans are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with sarcoidosis than white Americans, and tend to have more severe disease.
A report published in September 2020 in Frontiers in Immunology noted that Black patients in the United States with sarcoidosis experience more severe pulmonary disease, involvement of more organs, and an overall worse prognosis, with elevated rates of hospitalization and mortality.The report suggests that this is likely due, in part, to access to medical care, implicit bias on the part of healthcare providers, and patient perceived discrimination.
One of ways sarcoidosis can affect the skin is a condition called lupus pernio, in which skin sores appear on the face, especially on the nose, cheeks, lips, and ears. According to the NHLBI, lupus pernio mostly occurs in African Americans and can recur after treatment.

Resources We Love

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

The NHLBI, part of the National Institutes of Health, offers comprehensive, up-to-date info about sarcoidosis, from symptoms, treatment options, and managing the disease, to the latest research and clinical trials.

Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research

This nonprofit seeks to find a cure for sarcoidosis and to improve patient care. The educational materials on their website can help you gain a better understanding of what sarcoidosis is, and FSR provides a number of helpful resources for living with this disease, from finding specialists, clinical trials, and support groups, to a podcast for individuals affected by sarcoidosis.

American Lung Association (ALA)

In addition to providing a wealth of medical info about sarcoidosis, the ALA can help you find the support you may need to manage the disease. Their Lung Helpline (800-LUNGUSA) is open 7 days a week and staffed by nurses, therapists, and treatment specialists.

Additional reporting by Deborah Shapiro.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Sarcoidosis: Overview. Mayo Clinic. January 30, 2019.
  • Prognosis. Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research.
  • Sarcoidosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  • Sarcoidosis Overview. Cleveland Clinic. February 4, 2015.
  • Learn About Sarcoidosis. American Lung Association. October 24, 2020.
  • Causes and Risk Factors. Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research.
  • Sarcoidosis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic. January 30, 2019.
  • Sarcoidosis Overview: Diagnosis and Tests. Cleveland Clinic. February 4, 2015.
  • Sarcoidosis Overview: Management and Treatment. Cleveland Clinic. February 4, 2015.
  • Treatment Options. Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research.
  • Sarcoidosis. July 11, 2018.
  • Arkema E, Cozier Y. Epidemiology of Sarcoidosis: Current Findings and Future Directions. Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease. November 2018.
  • Hena KM. Sarcoidosis Epidemiology: Race Matters. Frontiers in Immunology. September 15, 2020.


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