Don't lose your health. This is the treasure of your life!

What Is Sarcoidosis? + 11 Ways to Find Natural Symptom Relief

What Is Sarcoidosis? + 11 Ways to Find Natural Symptom Relief

Sarcoidosis - Dr. Axe

by Katherine Brind’Amour, PhD

Sometimes inflammation in the body gets out of hand. That’s basically what happens if you have sarcoidosis, which is a disease of inflammation. The constant inflammation turns into bumps in the lymph nodes and various organs, such as the lungs and skin. (1) It can also affect the eyes and liver and, less often, the heart and brain. (2) The disease affects people all over the world, in every climate and at every age. (3) However, it is fairly rare. Among whites in the U.S., it affects 11 in every 100,000 people. Among blacks, the number more than triples to 36 in every 100,000 people. (4)

Sarcoidosis has no known cause and no definite course of progression or treatment. While this may be a bit unsettling, it can also be a relief, since treatment may not even be required in many cases. (5) Even better, people often naturally go into remission, meaning the symptoms eventually disappear on their own.


What Is Sarcoidosis?

When the immune system detects a threat in the human body, it sends special cells to fight off the infection or invaders. The ensuing battle causes some inflammation — redness, swelling, warmth or tissue damage. But in most people, when the fight is over, the inflammation goes away and the tissue returns to normal. Not so in this case.

For no known reason, the inflammation just keeps going in people with sarcoidosis. (6) The immune cells start to group together into lumps called granulomas. These lumps often start in the lungs, skin and the lymph nodes in the chest, but the problem can start in any organ. (7)

Many people have some lumps from sarcoidosis in the eye (which can cause a type of uveitis) and liver. (8) The disease can also affect more organs as it gets worse, and it is most dangerous when the lumps start to impact organ function or grow in the heart or brain. (9)

What is sarcoidosis of the lungs?

Sarcoidosis of the lungs, or pulmonary sarcoidosis, is simply when the lumps associated with this diagnosis can be found in the lungs and may be impacting your lung function. About 90 percent of people with sarcoidosis have some involvement of their lungs. (10) This is why the stages below are described in terms of the presence of lumps in the lungs.

Stages of sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis stages are a way for doctors to classify or describe the type of disease you have. With most stages of sarcoidosis, you can have symptoms that are severe or no symptoms at all. People can go back and forth among these stages, except once they are at Stage 4, since scarring doesn’t go away. (11)

Stages include: (12)

  • Stage 1: You have lumps (granulomas) in the lymph nodes but not in the lungs
  • Stage 2: You have lumps in the lymph nodes and lumps in your lungs
  • Stage 3: You have lumps in your lungs but not in the lymph nodes
  • Stage 4: You have scars (fibrosis) in your lungs from the disease

Sarcoidosis prognosis is generally very good, but gets slightly worse with each increasing stage of the disease. (13)

What is sarcoidosis? - Dr. Axe

Is sarcoidosis dangerous?

A sarcoidosis diagnosis means something different for everyone. In some cases, people have no symptoms, require no treatment and go into remission in a few months or years. In others, the lumps can cause serious problems with the way affected organs work and can lead to pain, trouble breathing, limits on your activity, or painful and visible rashes. (14)

If you have sarcoidosis, the diagnosis can be dangerous. Prognosis is worst when the disease affects the heart and brain, or when significant lumps or scarring affect how well your organs work. In these cases, lasting side effects or sudden, severe problems (including death) can occur because of the disease. (15) Even when the disease affects the heart and brain, death is unlikely. It is fatal in about 5 percent of cases. (16)

Only 15 to 20 percent of people have any functional limitations caused by sarcoidosis, and most of those problems resolve on their own. (17) When treatment is needed because the lumps are affecting your organ function or causing symptoms, it can often improve how you feel significantly, until the disease stops causing symptoms or goes away altogether.

Early detection, active monitoring, and treatment as needed may help improve your chances of controlling the disease and going into remission. In fact, about 2 in every 3 people go into remission (the disease goes away) within five years — and many see improvements much sooner than that. And once it’s gone, it’s unlikely to return. (18)

Is sarcoidosis contagious?

No, although there does seem to be both a genetic and environmental aspect to getting the disease. (19) If someone in your family has sarcoidosis, you cannot “catch” it from them, but you are at a greater risk of getting it than someone who is unrelated to you. However, your risk is still low. If someone in your family has sarcoidosis, you have less than a 1 percent chance of developing it. (20)


Sarcoidosis Signs & Symptoms

Some people with sarcoidosis have no symptoms at all. In these cases, the disease is often diagnosed when they get a chest X-ray for another reason, such as pneumonia. (21) In other cases, people have severe symptoms and the journey to a diagnosis takes time as they are evaluated for other things first, such as bronchitis, asthma or lung cancer.

Furthermore, symptoms may depend on where the lumps are located, gender, ethnicity and age. (22) Since the disease most often affects the lungs, sarcoidosis symptoms often include: (23)

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest pain

Beyond lung symptoms, many people with sarcoidosis experience the following symptoms: (24)

  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Feeling uneasy or depressed
  • Eye or vision problems
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Skin issues such as itchy or discolored patches, sores, or lumps on the back, legs, arms, scalp, or near the nose and eyes

This type of sarcoidosis rash may last a long time. It is different from the rash associated with Lofgren’s syndrome, which is a set of symptoms some people get when they first develop sarcoidosis. Symptoms of Lofgren’s syndrome include: (25)

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the chest (as seen by X-ray)
  • Arthritis in the ankles
  • A red or reddish-purple rash on the ankles and shins that may be warm and painful

Although you may not even notice, sarcoidosis may also make your liver or spleen swollen. In rare cases, sarcoidosis may cause severe sores on the face and fingers that can be disfiguring. (26) Irregular heartbeat, headaches, vision problems and many other symptoms may result if the lumps affect your heart or brain. (27)

In children younger than 4 years old, symptoms may include skin sores and red or swollen eyes. (28)

Sarcoidosis signs & symptoms - Dr. Axe


Sarcoidosis Causes & Risk Factors

What causes sarcoidosis?

Its actual cause is unknown. Researchers have tried to find particular infections or noninfectious particles that cause the condition, but there appears to be no specific trigger. Instead, the American Thoracic Society suggests that people who have a genetic predisposition for sarcoidosis simply react more strongly to things they inhale, such as mold or chemicals or construction dust. (29)

For example, one person may breathe air with particles in it and have temporary inflammation or a few lumps (granulomas) grow but quickly disappear, while another person could breathe the exact same air and develop lumps that stay and eventually become sarcoidosis.

Risk factors

Although there are no known sarcoidosis causes, there are some things that are associated with sarcoidosis. These can be considered the risk factors for developing the disease, until more is known about why it occurs: (30, 31)

  • Exposure to mold, inorganic particles or pesticides
  • Being a metalworker, firefighter or member of the U.S. Navy
  • Handling building materials
  • Being black
  • Being female
  • Being of Asian, German, Irish, Puerto Rican or Scandinavian origin
  • Being a relative of someone with sarcoidosis

You are most likely to get sarcoidosis between the ages of 20 and 40, although it can happen at any age. (32)

What causes sarcoidosis to flare up?

Usually, sarcoidosis gets worse (or better) slowly. You are not likely to have sudden symptoms. However, you may notice periods where your symptoms are worse. (33) These are called flares or flare ups.

In most cases it is not known what causes sarcoidosis flare ups. Symptoms may come and go periodically for no known reason. However, some people may have a flare up if they stop taking their steroid medication for sarcoidosis. (34) You may need to start taking medicine or you may need a change in medicine during a flare. (35)


Conventional Treatment

Most people diagnosed with sarcoidosis do not need medicine. The condition resolves on its own in a few months or years and does not cause symptoms that interfere with daily life. (36)

However, some people have symptoms of the disease that require treatment, such as skin sores, vision changes or trouble breathing. In most cases, a steroid called prednisone is the first treatment used for troublesome symptoms. (37) Your doctor may also give you prednisone if your condition is affecting your heart, brain or eyes, even if you have no symptoms. (38) The goal of this medicine is to reduce inflammation so that the lumps shrink or go away, and to reduce the risk of getting scar tissue in your lungs or other organs. (39)

Prednisone can cause serious side effects, so it is usually given at the lowest effective dose. It may take a few months to start working effectively. (40) Also, it shouldn’t be discontinued suddenly. When your doctor believes it is safe, he or she will probably taper you off of the steroid.

If you have serious side effects while on prednisone or if the steroid does not help your disease, your doctor may give you another medication, such as an antimalarial drug, immunosuppressant, hydroxychloroquine or TNF-alpha inhibitors. (41, 42) In very severe cases, you may need an organ transplant. This is only done in cases where your heart, lungs or liver are no longer functioning well enough for you to survive. (43)

Your doctor may also prescribe treatments to help manage symptoms. These can include inhaled medicines to help you breathe more easily, skin creams to treat sarcoidosis rash, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen). (44)


11 Natural Ways to Manage Sarcoidosis

In many cases, sarcoidosis treatment does not involve medication. If your symptoms are mild or your disease is not affecting the eyes, heart or brain, you may need no treatment at all — even natural ones!

However, it is generally a good idea to follow these lifestyle tips if you have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis: (45, 46, 47)

  1. Avoid pollution and lung irritants, such as dust and chemicals.
  2. Get regular exercise to improve your cardiovascular health.
  3. Stop smoking if you are a smoker, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  4. Get regular eye exams and lung function tests, since your disease can get worse without you noticing.
  5. Attend regular check-ups with your primary health care physician and report any new or worsening symptoms.
  6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet low in processed sugars and trans-fatty acids.
  7. Eat to reduce inflammation.
  8. Ask a health care professional about herbs and supplements to reduce inflammation, including:
    • Fish oil: 1 to 3 tablespoons, up to three times per day
    • Bromelain (enzymes derived from pineapple): 500 milligrams per day
    • Turmeric (Curcuma longa): 300 milligrams, three times per day (standardized extract)
    • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa): 20 milligrams, three times per day (standardized extract)
  9. Avoid calcium and vitamin D supplements unless someone who is also aware of your sarcoidosis diagnosis prescribes them, since the condition can cause these nutrients to accumulate in your body.
  10. Join a sarcoidosis support group for help coping with the illness and the emotional issues that come along with it.
  11. Talk to your health care provider before getting pregnant and get regular check-ups during and after pregnancy.

If you have sarcoidosis symptoms, talk with a health care professional about natural ways you may be able to manage them.


Precautions

Don’t ignore sarcoidosis symptoms, especially if they impact your eyesight or breathing. See a health care professional about any signs or symptoms you have that may indicate a sarcoidosis diagnosis or, if you have already been diagnosed, a change in your health.

Before making any changes to your supplements or medications, talk with a health care professional. Many herbs and supplements, including the ones listed above, can interact with medications or can have unintended impacts on other health conditions (such as leukemia or autoimmune diseases). (48) Consulting a health professional before you start or stop taking a medication or supplement can be critical to protecting your health and safety.


Key Points

  • Sarcoidosis is a condition that causes inflammation in the body to result in bumps called granulomas forming on the skin, lymph nodes, in the lungs, eyes and sometimes in the heart and brain and other organs.
  • For most people, their sarcoidosis prognosis is good. However, the disease can take a long time to go away, and it can be frustrating not knowing how you got ill or how to keep it from causing symptoms.
  • Sarcoidosis has no known cause and no definite course of progression or treatment.
  • It is not contagious.

11 Natural Ways to Manage Sarcoidosis Symptoms

  1. Avoid pollution and lung irritants.
  2. Get regular exercise to improve your cardiovascular health.
  3. Stop smoking if you are a smoker, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  4. Get regular eye exams and lung function tests.
  5. Attend regular check-ups with your primary health care physician and report any new or worsening symptoms.
  6. Eat a healthy, balanced diet low in processed sugars and trans-fatty acids.
  7. Eat to reduce inflammation.
  8. Ask a health care professional about herbs and supplements to reduce inflammation.
  9. Avoid calcium and vitamin D supplements unless someone who is also aware of your sarcoidosis diagnosis prescribes them.
  10. Join a sarcoidosis support group.
  11. Talk to your health care provider if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Read Next: Peripheral Vascular Disease + 10 Healthy Lifestyle Changes

by Katherine Brind’Amour, PhD Sometimes inflammation in the body gets out of hand. That’s basically what happens if you have sarcoidosis, which is a disease of inflammation. The constant inflammation turns into bumps in the lymph nodes and various organs, such as the lungs and skin. (1) It can also affect the eyes and liver… Read more »

Katie Brind’AmourDr. AxeNovember 19, 2017