Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is a rare inflammatory disease that can affect the lungs and other organs. If you’ve been diagnosed with sarcoidosis, you may be worried. Henry Ford Health System is here to help. We’ll carefully assess you, tell you what to expect and create a treatment plan to help you feel your best.

Henry Ford has received recognition as a WASOG Sarcoidosis Clinic by the World Association for Sarcoidosis and Other Granulomatous Disorders (WASOG). Only about 30 institutions in the world have that recognition.

Comprehensive sarcoidosis care at Henry Ford

Sarcoidosis can be complex. At Henry Ford, we provide optimal care for this challenging condition. We offer:

  • Team approach: A cross-functional team provides sarcoidosis care. Our sarcoidosis clinic brings together experts in pulmonology (lung), neurology (brain), cardiology (heart) and ophthalmology (eye) care. These specialists work together to diagnose and manage your care for multi-system sarcoidosis. Meet our pulmonary team.
  • Personalized care: When you come to Henry Ford, you may have had many tests and procedures already. Diagnosing sarcoidosis can be complex, and treatment varies depending on your needs. You’ll receive a thorough, personalized evaluation. We’ll help you understand your particular condition and what the future might hold. Learn more about what to expect.
  • Interventional pulmonology experts: Sometimes, we can best understand a lung condition by looking inside your lungs. We offer an outstanding interventional pulmonology program to do just that. This medical specialty provides nonsurgical diagnosis and treatment for lung conditions. Learn more about diagnostic bronchoscopy and interventional pulmonology.

What is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a disease in which small clumps of inflammatory cells, called granulomas, form in one or more of the body’s organs. If many granulomas form, they can interfere with the way organs function. Sarcoidosis most commonly affects the lungs, but it can affect almost any organ. It can involve the heart, brain, eyes, liver, skin and other tissues.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes sarcoidosis, and the disease doesn’t have a predictable course. Some patients never need treatment, while others will need regular care. It can affect anyone, although it is most common in people ages 20 to 40, and slightly more common in women than men.

Sarcoidosis symptoms

The unpredictability of sarcoidosis means that unlike many other pulmonary conditions, it doesn’t have a typical set of symptoms. However, people with sarcoidosis may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Enlarged lymph glands and organs, or lumps on the skin

How is sarcoidosis diagnosed?

Many times, doctors refer patients to us to confirm suspected sarcoidosis. Other patients haven’t found a treatment that works. We’ll review your existing test results and ask about your medical history. To make an accurate diagnosis, you may have a few more tests including:

  • Imaging: We use several tests to examine the structures inside your chest, including your heart and lungs. We may order a chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT scan) or other tests to provide images of your organs. Granulomas are visible on these scans. Some scans involve contrast, a dye that makes structures more visible on a scan.
  • Pulmonary function tests: Regular pulmonary function tests check the health of your lungs. You’ll be asked to perform simple tasks like blowing into a tube (spirometry) or walking for several minutes, while we measure the results. Find out more about pulmonary function tests.
  • Heart tests: A heart rhythm test (electrocardiograph, often called EKG or ECG) shows how your heart functions. Many people with sarcoidosis have abnormal EKG results. Further study, like an echocardiogram, can help us understand how your heart is pumping blood.
  • Biopsy: The only sure way to diagnose sarcoidosis is to take a lung tissue sample (biopsy). We do the biopsy using a bronchoscope (a narrow tube with a light and a camera that we insert through your mouth). You'll have this procedure in our bronchoscopy and interventional pulmonology suite. You usually will not need hospitalization.

Sarcoidosis treatment at Henry Ford

How we treat sarcoidosis depends on the severity of the disease. Treatments vary from simple to complex.

We’ll create a unique care plan for your condition. Your treatment will depend on which organs are involved and how your body responds. Your care may include:

  • Observation: Mild sarcoidosis symptoms may gradually resolve on their own. In this case, we’ll check in with you once or twice a year. This routine examination may include blood tests, chest X-rays and an eye exam.
  • Corticosteroids: People with more severe sarcoidosis may find relief from corticosteroid medications. Many people require these medications for one to two years. Some of the most severely affected patients may take corticosteroid therapy throughout their lives. Because steroids can raise the risk of osteoporosis (losing bone mass), we aggressively support bone health during this treatment.
  • Nonsteroidal immunosuppressive drugs: Sometimes we use medications such as methotrexate, azathioprine and cyclophosphamide in addition to corticosteroids or instead of steroids. These drugs can reduce the negative effects of steroid medication. Sometimes they are called steroid-sparing medications or disease-modifying anti-sarcoid drugs (DMASDs).
  • TNF-alpha inhibitors: Some types of sarcoidosis don’t respond to steroids or DMASDs. For these cases, we typically use a type of medication called a TNF-alpha inhibitor. These medications, such as REMICADE® (infliximab), often treat autoimmune diseases.
  • Clinical trial therapies: Some patients have the option of trying new therapies through clinical trials. These trials can offer new medications for sarcoidosis that haven’t yet been approved for wider use. We participate in National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other sponsored studies.
  • Organ transplant: It’s rare, but some people living with sarcoidosis experience irreversible organ failure. These patients may require an organ transplant. Most often, people receive a lung transplant or a liver transplant. Learn more about the Henry Ford Transplant Institute.
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