Sarcoidosis is a disorder that causes inflamed tissue, called nodules or granulomas, to develop in the body's organs, most often the lungs. It can also affect the skin, eyes, nose, muscles, heart, liver, spleen, bowel, kidney, testes, nerves, lymph nodes and brain. Nodules in the lungs can lead to narrowing of the airways and inflammation, also called fibrosis, of lung tissue.

Sarcoidosis affects people of all ages, races and gender, though it most commonly occurs in people between 20 to 40 years old. Children are rarely diagnosed with the disease. In very few cases, more than one family member is affected. African-Americans are three to four times more likely to have sarcoidosis and may have a more severe form of the disease than people of European descent.

Symptoms of sarcoidosis may vary from person to person, and depend on the organs affected. Frequently, the condition causes mild symptoms and resolves on its own without treatment. In approximately half of all patients, sarcoidosis is detected on a routine chest X-ray before any symptoms develop. The most common symptoms of sarcoidosis involving the lungs include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, which is usually a vague tightness of the chest, but can occasionally be severe and similar to the pain of a heart attack
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

In making a diagnosis of sarcoidosis, your doctor will begin by conducting a thorough physical examination, asking about any symptoms you are experiencing, including when they started and how they've progressed or eased over time. Your full medical history will also be recorded.

There is no singular finding that confirms a diagnosis of sarcoidosis. Therefore, the diagnosis is based on multiple factors, including symptoms, abnormalities on a chest X-ray or CT scan, and microscopic examination of one or more specimens from involved tissues or organs.

In addition, you may also have the following tests to help rule out other conditions, such as tuberculosis, which cause similar symptoms as sarcoidosis, and to make a definite diagnosis.

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Sarcoidosis is treated at the UCSF Interstitial Lung Disease Program. World-renowned lung specialists, chest radiologists and pathologists work together as a team to design the most effective treatment plan for your individual condition.

The cause of sarcoidosis is unknown at this time. Therefore, there is no specific treatment to cure the condition. Fortunately, in many cases, sarcoidosis does not require treatment because the nodules gradually resolve on their own and leave behind few, if any, signs of inflammation or other complications.

However, treatment is necessary in some cases. Medications are available that effectively suppress symptoms and help reduce lung inflammation, the impact of nodules and prevent the development of lung fibrosis. These include the following medications.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.