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Most people don't know about sarcoidosis. Here's why you should.

 Sarcoidosis Awareness: Micrograph of an enlarged lymph node showing non-caseating granulomas of sarcoidosis. The exact cause of sarcoidosis is not known, but it may be a type of autoimmune disease.
Sarcoidosis Awareness: Micrograph of an enlarged lymph node showing non-caseating granulomas of sarcoidosis. The exact cause of sarcoidosis is not known, but it may be a type of autoimmune disease.

About one in a thousand people get sarcoidosis and many may not realize they have it. But pulmonologist Dr. Gary Weinstein with Texas Health Dallas told KERA’s Sam Baker the inflammatory disease can be pretty serious for some people.

What it sarcoidosis?

It is most commonly a pulmonary or lung disease but can affect any organ of the body. And there's something that researchers have yet to figure out that triggers this inflammation in various parts of our body, and the way that our body reacts to whatever this trigger is generates a specific type of inflammation called a granuloma. And it's a specific look under the microscope. That's how we know that it's sarcoid versus some other diseases that can cause these same kinds of granulomas or similar granulomas. 

And we have no clue what triggers it.

Because the lung is affected in over 90% of the cases, it is postulated that it's something that we breathe in and there has been much, much work looking for that something. But as yet, we don't know what triggers it.

What kind of symptoms or signs indicates that a person might have it?

Somewhere between 50% and 65% of cases, patients are totally asymptomatic. They are most commonly found to have an abnormal chest x-ray where there is some enlargement or swelling of the lymph nodes in the lung. And that generates some investigation and they're found to have acquired sarcoidosis.

In the patients who have symptoms, again, because the lung is affected in the majority of cases, most of the time patients have pulmonary symptoms that can range from shortness of breath, cough, fever, chest pain, or discomfort. 

How is sarcoidosis treated or can it be? 

It can. And in two-thirds of the patients who have symptoms, the symptoms will go away with or without treatment over two to three years, 24 to 36 months.

There's a small percentage who have progressive symptoms and it can become a very serious medical problem. When patients have symptoms that are problematic like significant breathing problems, heart rhythm problems, and eye problems, we typically use steroids as the first line of treatment, which is typically successful. 

Can you prevent sarcoidosis? 

Not that we know of and it would be hard to know who to treat to prevent it because we don't exactly know who's going to get it.

It is much more common in young people. We know that is more common in women compared to men. And we know that it is more common in African Americans than in Caucasians in this country. 

What is it that you want people to take away from this about sarcoidosis? 

It's something to maybe ask family members if they have had it because it may be more likely if a family member has had it.

If you are found to have an abnormal chest X-ray with lymph node swelling, sarcoidosis should be one of the things that are on the list of differentials of possible diseases, especially if you're a young Black woman to be at the top of the list as opposed to something that is much more scary, like lymphoma or a bad infection. 

Know your family history?

Absolutely. That's something to sit around and talk about. It's very important to know where things run in your family and have been present so you can be aware of them in yourself or your family, your kids, and be on the watch for them. 


About Sarcoidosis

What Is Sarcoidosis?

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.