Sarcoidosis: Affecting African Americans More Frequently

Sarcoidosis is a chronic inflammatory disease that damages tissues and organs. It is classified as a systemic disease because it affects multisystems throughout the body. It primarily affects people between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. Medical research has not yet determined what actually causes sarcoidosis. At one time it was solely classified as an autoimmune disease. But research now is looking at possible other causes.

The chronic inflammation process of sarcoidosis gradually destroys good tissues and organs, resulting in lumpy structures, known as noncaseating granulomas. A granuloma is a collection of macrophages, the cells that work in the body’s behalf to fight off pathogens. A noncaseating granuloma is a granuloma in which the macrophages remain alive, and do not die. The job of macrophages is to destroy any foreign tissue. In an autoimmune disease, these macrophages attack good body tissue and organs, reacting as if they are pathogens. Noncaseating granulomas can form inside and/or outside of the body. If they form on the skin surface, this disease is called Cutaneous Sarcoidosis.

In the United States, sarcoidosis is more prevalent among the African American race, presenting 10 times more common in blacks, and occurring two times more frequently in black females than in black males. Medical research believes that this prevalence of disease frequency is due to both genetic and environmental factors. According to the Federal Government Source for Women’s Health Information, autoimmune diseases show the following trend in women:

  • Affecting women in their childhood years.
  • Family history.
  • Environmental chemicals exposure: sunlight, solvents, viral/bacterial infections.
  • Certain ethnic groups – African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

Signs and symptoms of sarcoidosis

In greater than 90% of cases, sarcoidosis primarily affects the lungs:

  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Other symptoms of may include:

  • Tiredness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes/tenderness
  • Neurological changes (memory loss, personality changes, stroke)
  • Weight changes (usually weight loss)
  • Watery eyes/soreness,
  • Discoloration to skin/ulcers

Diagnosing and Treatment for Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is a diagnosed by excluding other possible diseases. This may involve obtaining a thorough patient history, lab work, chest x-rays and CT scans to visualize the presence of granulomas in various organs. Lymph node and skin biopsies may also be used to help differentiate this disease from others. Once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment of this disease will vary because of individuality.

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In most cases, sarcoidosis lasts between one and three years. If organs that are not affected by this disease, no treatment is necessary. In other cases, the condition may become chronic and it could last for many years, resulting in permanent lung damage. In this situation, the primary objective is to reduce the inflammation of the lungs by steroid administration to prevent further damage and to promote adequate airway exchange.

Many people live successful lives with sarcoidosis. The key to this success is staying connected with a primary healthcare provider for guidance and treatment. Getting regular check ups is imperative and allows you to stay on top with managing this disease. A chronic disease can be draining because it is a constant challenge to deal with. The National Institution of Health is aware of this and has provided a website to provide information and to assist people who are living with this disease.

If you or someone you know has sarcoidosis, please reach out and take advantage of the help that is available. There is no need to face this disease alone.