Keeping an eye out for sarcoidosis

Published: Saturday 18th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Lots of us will notice little red bumps on our skin from time to time. They’re usually completely harmless and nothing to worry about, eventually disappearing on their own.

But what if they don’t go away? If they’re painful and not clearing – or if you have a number of other symptoms – they could be a sign of sarcoidosis.

So what is it?

Sarcoidosis is a condition where cells clump together to form small lumps of inflammation and scarring called granulomas. These can develop anywhere in the body, including on vital organs.

The British Lung Foundation points out that while around a quarter of the granulomas caused by sarcoidosis can be found on the skin, they are commonly found in the lungs and lymph glands.

They can also occur in the heart, nervous system, liver, spleen, muscles, nose, sinuses or eyes.

April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month.

Spotting the signs

When many granulomas develop in one area, they can affect how well that part of the body works.

Symptoms include:

• Breathlessness and a dry cough

• Fatigue or feeling ill

• Red or sore eyes

• Painful red lumps, particularly on the shins

• Swollen lymph glands in the face, neck or armpits

• Rashes, usually on the upper body

• Painful joints or bones

• An abnormal heart rhythm

Risk factors

Sarcoidosis can start at any age, although it’s unusual for children to get it.

It’s most commonly seen in adults in their 30s or 40s. Researchers think there may be a higher risk of developing sarcoidosis in some people’s genes.

Around one person in every 10,000 in the UK is affected.

Unclear causes

While it’s not clear what causes it, some think it’s linked to the immune system.

Theories suggest an environmental trigger may cause the immune system to attack healthy parts of the body, instead of just attacking threats.

Is it easy to diagnose?

Symptoms can come on suddenly and not last very long, or can be very gradual and long-lasting – a type of the condition known as chronic sarcoidosis.

You can even have no symptoms at all, with the condition only diagnosed after tests for something else.

Can it be treated?

Doctors may decide not to treat sarcoidosis. They will often just monitor the condition, only prescribing steroids in more severe cases.

Lifestyle changes are frequently recommended. The Sarcoidosis Charity SILA suggests:

• Stop smoking

• Avoid exposure to dust, chemicals, fumes and toxic gases

• Eat a healthy balanced diet

• Drink plenty of water

• Get plenty of exercise and sleep

What’s the prognosis?

Most people with chronic sarcoidosis eventually get better, although symptoms may flare up from time to time.

It can last for years in some cases, causing permanent damage and scarring to the affected areas. In very rare cases, people can die from heart or lung sarcoidosis.

There’s no cure for the condition.

SILA states: “Every case of sarcoidosis is unique. A number of websites claim to understand the causes, and will sell you a cure. Please always consult your doctor before considering an alternative therapy.”

Copyright Press Association 2015

Published: Saturday 18th April 2015 by The News Editor

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