Sarcoidosis? What?

Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
Sarcoidosis? What?

image by: Valder Beebe Show

It’s a very slippery disease and can be mistaken for cancer, MS or even lupus to name a few. It’s a mimicker - The Sarcoidosis Experience

Have you heard that actress Tisha Campbell-Martin is dying from a horrible, debilitating lung disease? Well, the lung disease part is true, she has sarcoidosis, but she isn’t dying from it and she wants everyone to know that she is very much alive despite recent tabloid reports to the contrary.

She says, 'Thank you, everyone, for your concern. However, no worry is needed.  I was diagnosed with a lung disorder that some people walk around with for years and they don’t even know they have it.  I'm happy to share that I am healthy.'

The energetic actress, 42, who is best known for her roles on the hit comedies Martin and My Wife and Kids, says she was diagnosed with Stage-2 sarcoidosis nearly ten years ago after she began having trouble breathing.  And although the disease can be frightening Campbell-Martin says she refuses to let it effect her career or her lifestyle.  Her latest project, a police drama called Exit 19, will debut later this year and she is the mother of two small boys.  Campbell-Martin credits her daily routine of exercise and proper nutrition with helping her successfully manage the same disease that contributed to the death of comedian Bernie Mac in 2008.

Bernie Mac was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1983. He quietly lived with the disease for 25 years and like Campbell-Martin he refused to let it slow him down. Mac too, was careful about his diet, fanatical about exercise, and worked very closely with his doctors, always following their advice and experimenting with new treatments when they became available. However, the disease had ravaged his lungs leaving them scarred and his immune system was weak. These factors left his body unable to fight off the pneumonia that eventually led to his premature death in 2008. 

So, what is sarcoidosis and how can two people have the same disease and very different outcomes?

Sarcoidosis is a disease that is complicated, often overlooked, and misunderstood.  It is an autoimmune disorder characterized by the growth of tiny clumps of inflamed cells that affect different areas of the body, most commonly the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin.  Normally, your immune system helps protect your body from foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses, but with sarcoidosis, immune cells misfire, clump together, and form lumps called granulomas. As granulomas build up in an organ, the function of that organ deteriorates.

It is estimated that there are more than one million people living with sarcoidosis worldwide.  The disease is more common in African Americans than Caucasians and it affects each ethnicity differently as well.  For example, approximately 90% of the Caucasians who develop sarcoidosis will not experience any symptoms and the disease will simply disappear over time, even without treatment. In African-Americans, the disease may progress much more aggressively often resulting in more extreme symptoms, additional hospital visits, and longer courses of treatment.

For many people, sarcoidosis begins with the following general symptoms: fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and weight loss.  Others may experience symptoms in the lungs - persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain.  Or, sometimes symptoms appear on the skin as red or reddish-purple bumps that are most commonly located on the shins and ankles and may be warm and tender to the touch. Skin lesions and sores may also occur on the nose, cheeks, and ears and nodules or growths may develop under the skin, particularly around scars or tattoos.

The symptoms of sarcoidosis tend to vary, depending on which organs are affected and for how long you've had the disease. Sometimes sarcoidosis develops gradually and produces signs and symptoms that last for years. Or, symptoms may appear suddenly and then disappear just as quickly.

Many people with sarcoidosis have no symptoms, so the disease may not be discovered until they have a chest X-ray for another reason.

The good news is that sarcoidosis is not necessarily a death sentence. In fact, once diagnosed, doctors may decide not to treat the disease at all; instead choosing to monitor the patient carefully and allowing the disease to go into remission on its own. In many cases treatment only becomes necessary if organ function is threatened. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict which patients will remit and which will go on to have long term complications. The bottom line is that most patients with sarcoidosis will lead a full, healthy and productive life.

Stacy Matson, a health enthusiast from Southern California, regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.

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