If you were asked to name a chronic disease that affects African Americans disproportionately compared to whites, sarcoidosis would probably not be the first name to spring to mind. Even though sarcoidosis was first identified more than a century ago, many health care professionals are still unfamiliar with this complex, sometimes debilitating condition. Yet according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sarcoidosis in the U.S. occurs slightly more often–and more severely–among black Americans than whites. It is also more likely to run in families among African Americans compared to whites.

Sarcoidosis (pronounced sar-coy-doe-sis) is a disease that causes inflammation of the body’s tissues, resulting in the formation of small, hard nodules (also called granulomas). It can occur in any organ–most commonly the lungs, causing respiratory problems–and always affects multiple organs. Although sarcoidosis is usually a mild condition that often disappears without treatment, in more severe cases it can cause damaging scar tissue that impairs the function of vital organs.

The cause of sarcoidosis is still unknown, but scientists have several theories. Possible suspects include an immune system defect, a viral or bacterial infection and a genetic disorder. Exposure to environmental hazards may also be a factor. Interestingly, several studies have noted higher rates of sarcoidosis among health care workers, which could mean that African-American nurses are at higher than usual risk for the disease.

Because early detection is the key to keeping sarcoidosis under control, it’s important for health professionals to be able to recognize signs of the disease. Common symptoms include fatigue, fever, shortness of breast, chest pain, cough and a bumpy skin rash. Several tests and procedures, such as chest x-rays and blood tests, are available to diagnose sarcoidosis. The most commonly used treatment is prednisone, a corticosteroid drug that is effective in preventing tissue damage but can sometimes have serious side effects. Nurses can learn more about sarcoidosis online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/lung/other/sarcoidosis.

See also
Keeping an Open Mind: My Brief Career as a Licensed Home Care Services Agency Registered Nurse

 

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