Sarcoidosis is a chronic disease that affects multiple systems in the body. It is characterized by the buildup of immune-system cells in organs. These cells form small clusters called granulomas, a type of inflammation of the involved tissues.
Sarcoidosis is found throughout the world, in all races, and in both sexes. Although no one knows why, young women of African descent and people of Scandinavian, German, Irish, or Puerto Rican origin are more prone to sarcoidosis. It occurs most commonly between the ages of 20 and 40, although it can occur in children and older adults.
Because the symptoms of sarcoidosis can be vague and can be mistaken for other diseases, it's difficult to estimate how common the disease is. In the U.S., an estimated 10 to 40 in 100,000 people have sarcoidosis. Among African Americans, the rate is higher.
Sarcoidosis is not cancer, nor is it contagious. Though it can occur in families, it is not inherited. Usually the disease is not disabling; most people with sarcoidosis live normal lives. In fact, in the majority of cases, the disease appears only briefly and disappears on its own. About 20% to 30% of people with sarcoidosis are left with some permanent lung damage, and in 10% to 15% of patients the disease is chronic. Although not common, death from sarcoidosis can occur if the disease causes serious damage to a vital organ such as the brain or lungs.
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