Sarcoidosis (sar-coy-DOE-sis) is a disease for which the cause and cure are unknown. It is an inflammatory, autoimmune, and multi-systematic disease. The immune system overreacts which produces inflamed tissue referred to as granulomas, nodules, or lumps, which attack organs and systems throughout the body. Sarcoidosis commonly affects the lungs, but can also occur in the nervous system, brain, lymph nodes, skin, eyes, heart, liver, spleen, or any areas of the body.
While the cause of sarcoidosis is unknown, it is hypothesized that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to its occurrence. Sarcoidosis has a world-wide distribution, and can affect people of every race, sex, and age; however, people of African, Scandinavian, Irish, Asian, German, and Puerto Rican descent appear to have a higher prevalence of the disease. Sarcoidosis is not contagious, and often appears in patients between the ages of 20 and 40. Once considered a rare disease, it is now estimated that there are approximately 180,000 – 200,000 cases of sarcoidosis per year within the United States.
As sarcoidosis can involve any organ within the body, and has varied symptoms, it often mimics other diseases. Sarcoidosis is often difficult to diagnose, and is sometimes misdiagnosed. It is important to obtain an early diagnosis of sarcoidosis to prevent organ failure.
Sarcoidosis manifests itself and impacts people differently. Some people have reported having no symptoms at all, and were accidentally diagnosed with the disease; whereas the disease has been extremely serious and fatal to others. In some cases the disease can be frustrating, inconvenient, and can cause a wide spectrum of illness and discomfort, but is not necessarily life-threatening. However, in severe cases of the disease, especially when major organs such as the lungs, heart, and central nervous system are involved, the disease can be life-threatening.
Sarcoidosis is a very complex disease. There are numerous factors which adversely impact the quality of life for patients. Sarcoidosis patients must contend with the complications and symptoms of the disease. In addition many patients are faced with societal perceptions because they don’t necessarily “look sick” and their family and friends may question the validity of their disease, wondering why they are no longer able to function, perform or engage in work or play; or participate in everyday activities. Some patients experience a certain level of stress and anxiety as there are many unknowns associated with the disease. Patients have no understanding of the origin of sarcoidosis; its cause has been elusive, there is no known cure, and patients are often treated with medications for which there are numerous adverse and long term side effects. A huge issue for many patients is an unexplainable overwhelming fatigue which impacts every aspect of their lives. Quality of life issues can impact relationships with spouses, significant others, family, friends, colleagues; as well as affect the patient’s self-esteem. The magnitude of quality of life issues can be totally devastating which can result in feelings of bewilderment, fear, and depression for the patient.