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Under the Radar
There are a number of diseases and conditions that have fully made their way into our shared lexicon, from the mild to the severe. Diabetes. Alzheimer’s. Arthritis. Cancer. These only represent a few, but there’s a good chance that you can think of someone who has dealt with each. One that you may not be so familiar with, however, is sarcoidosis – a chronic disease that leads to the formation of inflammatory cells in various organs throughout the body. And more than a third of those affected by sarcoidosis are older adults. While it can affect the eyes, liver, and heart, sarcoidosis usually impacts the lungs and skin, causing intense shortness of breath and lesions, respectively.
If sarcoidosis is starting to sound somewhat familiar, you may remember hearing about it back in 2008, after the death of comedian Bernie Mac. In 1983, Mac was diagnosed with the disease, which left his lungs in a weakened state. It wasn’t until the last few years of his life that he publicly discussed his struggle with sarcoidosis, but he was determined to create greater awareness, and even helped establish a foundation dedicated to the cause. Mac’s official cause of death was complications from pneumonia, but there were some who expressed that there may have been a link between the pneumonia and the disease with which he battled for so long.
An Ongoing Search
Fortunately, awareness of sarcoidosis and research efforts have expanded the last few years, but overall, there’s still little that we know about the disease. Researchers believe that it is the result of abnormal immune system response, but what triggers this remains a mystery. Some suspect that it’s brought on by the inhalation of certain harmful airborne toxins. In fact, a recent study showed a significant number of EMS and firefighters who helped in rescue and recovery during 9/11 have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Genetic susceptibility to sarcoidosis is also thought to be a primary factor.
What we do know about sarcoidosis is that it can affect anybody – and while it is often seen in those between the ages of 20 and 40, approximately 30% of all cases occur in older adults (those over 65 years of age). In this instance it is known as elderly-onset sarcoidosis.
Treatment and Living with Sarcoidosis
If seniors suspect that they may have sarcoidosis, based on the known symptoms (shortness of breath, fatigue, lesions on the skin, etc.), they should immediately contact their physician. He or she will examine the organs for granulomas and ask about medical history, with specific focus on family history of sarcoidosis, occupations that may have increased risk, exposure to beryllium metal, or contact with organic dust. A physician will then run a series of diagnostic tests, including chest x-rays, lung function tests, and biopsies.
If sarcoidosis is diagnosed, there are forms of treatment available, but they may not be for everyone. For those whose organs have been significantly impacted, treatment will almost certainly be recommended. Prescribed treatment will involve improving organ functionality, relieving symptoms, and reducing inflammation (through a steroid called prednisone). Sarcoidosis may naturally go away for some, making treatment unnecessary. However, though symptoms may dissipate, organs can still be damaged from sarcoidosis, ultimately making it more difficult to fight infection – a factor that, as noted above, may have been involved in Bernie Mac’s complications from pneumonia.
In all cases of sarcoidosis, individuals should follow up regularly with their health care team to have everything reassessed. And just like with any other disease, living with sarcoidosis may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. That’s why having a support system comprised of family and friends is key – especially for older adults who may be struggling with these feelings anyway. Seniors can also take advantage of support groups – available through the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research – and connect with those who have dealt with sarcoidosis. While it may not have the same level of public awareness as other diseases, it’s important to remember that sarcoidosis should be taken just as seriously.
Comfort Keepers® Can Help
The compassionate, professional team of caregivers at Comfort Keepers® can help support seniors as they recover from sarcoidosis. Whether that means providing companionship throughout the week and reminding them to take medication or simply helping with laundry and meal preparation, we can help make life easier for them. Our caregivers can also assist in providing transportation to scheduled medical appointments or anywhere else seniors need to go. Learn more about Comfort Keepers’ unique style of caregiving by contacting your local Comfort Keepers office today.
Scientific American. “What is Sarcoidosis?” by Nikhil Swaminathan. Web. 2018.
National Institutes of Health. “Elderly-Onset Sarcoidosis: Prevalence, Clinical Course, and Treatment” by Jamilloux Y, Bonnefoy M, Valeyre D, Varron L, Broussolle C, Sève P. Web. 2013.
Sarcoidosis News. “High Incidence of Sarcoidosis Found in Ground Zero Firefighters and EMS Works Post 9/11” by Ana Pamplona, PHD. Web. 2017.
Chest Foundation. “Sarcoidosis” by Doreen Addrizzo-Harris, MD, FCCP; Joseph Barney, MSPH, MD, FACP, FCCP; Samantha D’Annunzio, MD; Sheetal Gandotra, MD; Nina Patel, MD, FCCP. Web. 2018.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Sarcoidosis.” Web. 2015.
ABC News. “Mac’s Death Raises Sarcoidosis Awareness” by Dan Childs and ABC News Medical Unit. Web. 2008.