Autoimmune diseases are frightening, and those like multiple sclerosis that are incurable and degenerative can be daunting when it comes to learning how to cope. An autoimmune disease is one in which the body’s immune system attacks itself, typically targeting a certain system or organ in the body. In the case of multiple sclerosis, it’s the myelin coating that protects the central nervous system (CNS), causing extensive damage to nerves and communication efforts of the system.
Another autoimmune disease that can sometimes seem to mimic aspects of multiple sclerosis is sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis can affect multiple parts of the body and cause granulomas, which are collections of inflammatory cells, in various areas of the body. Obviously, the attack method is different between these two, but physicians and researchers do note some similarities between the two conditions.
What is sarcoidosis?
This autoimmune disease causes groupings of inflammatory cells in specific areas of the body, which can lead to complications of several kinds, depending on the particular location. While the disease can choose to attack almost any organ in the body, including the central nervous system, it’s typically noted that granulomas are found in the lungs and lymph nodes, followed by the eyes, heart, and skin.
While the cause of the autoimmune reaction are unknown, just like many autoimmune diseases including MS, there are theories that an infectious agent, dust, or chemical could prompt an immune response that leads to the body feeling that certain natural cells in the body are closely related to the agent in question and, therefore, develop antibodies against that particular cell group, leading to the building of granulomas.
Sarcoidosis and multiple sclerosis: symptoms and similarities
While the symptoms of sarcoidosis vary depending on the part of the body it attacks, some of them are very similar to the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. In addition, some of the risk factors are the same. For example, women have a higher risk of both diseases, and both are most commonly diagnosed between the ages of eighteen and fifty. Some of the symptoms that can occur with both include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Pain and swelling in areas of the body (mainly the joints in sarcoidosis, however)
- Blurred vision and eye pain
- Weakness, especially in the limbs and extremities
Both MS and sarcoidosis can cause damage to the CNS, with attacks on areas of the brain and spinal cord. Both also have the potential to lead to eventual blindness. Like MS, there is more than one form of sarcoidosis. In one form, the symptoms come on suddenly (such as in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis). This is usually a milder form of the disease. If the symptoms appear more slowly and progressively worsen over time (as in primary progressive MS), it’s a more serious form that is longer lasting and could cause serious complications.
Both diseases, multiple sclerosis and sarcoidosis , are unpredictable, with every patient having a unique experience and a slight difference in presentation. This makes it harder for physicians to diagnose either condition, and it’s part of the reason it’s been so difficult to find a cure. In addition, neither ailment seems to be inherited, though patients with a family history of the diseases are at a slightly higher risk of developing the same.
Sarcoidosis and multiple sclerosis: conditions and differences
Just as the two share some commonalities, there are also extreme differences in the presentation of the disease. For example, while MS is found more frequently in Caucasians, they do not face as great a risk of developing sarcoidosis. This is more common among people of African American descent and Scandinavians. Also, even where some symptoms are the same, the causes are very different, with sarcoidosis rarely (though it is possible) affecting the central nervous system and more likely affecting the organ directly.
Sarcoidosis is measured in stages, similar to cancer, ranging from stage zero to stage five, with most patients exhibiting symptoms of stage one, which means that there si no pulmonary infiltration or fibrosis. While there are four types of multiple sclerosis, and most are diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. However, it is not measured in stages of progression.
Some of the symptoms found in multiple sclerosis that are not typical of sarcoidosis include:
- Difficulty with mobility
- Impaired cognition
- Slurred speech or trouble swallowing
- Spasms or stiffness in the muscles, especially in the legs
On the other hand, there are several symptoms that mark sarcoidosis as different from MS:
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Cold symptoms, such as cough, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain
- Skin rashes, disfiguring sores, and nodules growing under the skin
- Eyes that burn or itch, are very dry, severely red, or that are highly sensitive to light
- Irregular or rapid heart rate
- Swelling due to edema (fluid retention)
- Fainting and shortness of breath
In most cases, unless the patient’s organs are severely damaged, there are few reports of disability with sarcoidosis, even after having the disease for more than a decade. On the other hand, multiple sclerosis can quickly cause nerve damage that leads to disability, especially when not treated immediately. In cases of sarcoidosis, if fibrosis or scarring of the tissue, or organs is extensive, the disease could be fatal. In these cases, with significant damage, life expectancy is typically not more than ten years. However, while multiple sclerosis is a lifelong disease, it isn’t fatal, and most patients live a normal lifespan.
A few similarities exist between sarcoidosis and multiple sclerosis, mostly due to properties of autoimmune diseases and the lack of a cure for either. However, they are also quite different in their presentation, including varied symptoms and the possibility of a fatal prognosis for someone who develops sarcoidosis. Seeing a doctor with any symptoms of either disease is imperative to living a fuller, healthier life with good quality and a bright future. With the right treatment and determination, patients can handle the worst their disease throws at them, and making the necessary changes to their environments can also assist in bettering their everyday life and activities. But to make the right choices, patients have to identify and accept their diagnosis.