By definition, sarcoidosis is a fairly common inflammatory disease affecting various organs – especially the lungs and lymph nodes.
What raises eyebrows about this condition is its predominant effect on young African-American adults – more so young women between the ages of 20 to 29.
“Sarcoidosis can affect people of any age, race and gender. However, in the United States, it is most common in African-Americans and people of European – particularly Scandinavian – descent. African-Americans are about five times more likely to have sarcoidosis than whites, representing a significant national health disparity,” said Debbie Durrer, executive director of the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research.
Since sarcoidosis is an illness that can affect various organs, symptoms of the disease vary – depending on which organ has been affected. More than 90 percent of all diagnosed patients’ lungs are affected. Generally, a cough that will not go away is an early detection, along with shortness of breath and chest pain. But to write about an illness’ symptoms gives no justice to how sarcoidosis sufferers are diagnosed, cope with the various symptoms and carry on with their life. Lynne Wright explains her agony.
“I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1989, at the age of 26. At the time of my diagnosis, I had the whole gamut of symptoms: the joint pain, the erythema (redness of skin), rashes, extreme itching, fatigue and shortness of breath.” Wright explained. “I went into a remission after about a year and had been relatively healthy for 12 years. The sarcoidosis has recently come back and I now suffer from night sweats, insomnia and itching with breakouts of nodes behind my ears.”
Wright is just one of many who suffer from a wide-range of symptoms. To make matters even more complicated, sarcoidosis takes on 14 various types and can also affect the eyes – causing blurred vision and dry eyes.
Researchers are still unsure how the condition develops and why it’s prevalent in African-Americans and women compared to their counterparts. Experts are pointing to genetics in development, but that theory is not scientifically proven.
“The fact that a person is more likely to develop the disease if someone in his or her close family has the disease strongly suggests that genetics plays a role. Researchers have not discovered the genes for sarcoidosis yet, but it seems likely that more than one gene is involved,” Durrer said.
Sarcoidosis is now classified as a common illness. While research continues to develop, more patients are being quickly diagnosed and doctors are being equally educated about the illness and are being taught to look for signs and symptoms. No longer is the illness listed as rare.
“The Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, hears from thousands of patients every year, many with similar stories. For many people, the first time they heard the word ‘sarcoidosis’ was when they or a loved one were diagnosed. This leaves people feeling alone and isolated,” Durrer explained.
When it comes to treatment – there’s good news and bad news – between 30 and 70 percent of diagnosed patients do not require therapy, and are usually prescribed a drug called prednisone. This medication slows or reverses the disease. On the other hand, a good amount of patients will require steroid therapy, usually after extensive progression of the illness. Half of the cases are cured within 12 to 36 months and most within five years.
“Sarcoidosis is often serious and can even be life-threatening, especially if you don’t know you have it. Early diagnosis and treatment can help relieve symptoms and stop or minimize organ damage,” Durrer said.