Infographic: Cardiac sarcoidosis: A heart under attack

Cardiac Sarcoidosis: A Heart Under Attack

Autoimmune disease disrupts the finely tuned functions of the heart.

An immune system on overdrive

Cardiac sarcoidosis is a rare autoimmune disorder in which the body overproduces immune cells, which clump together into "granulomas" that can build up in the heart, disrupting heart rhythm, blood flow and normal heart function.

How it mimics heart failure and heart attacks.

Closing off arteries: Granulomas can build up in blood vessels and constrict blood flow, leading to heart attacks.

Constricting ventricles: If granulomas are in the heart muscle, they can weaken the heart's pumping function and cause abnormal heart rhythms.

What causes sarcoidosis?

Doctors are unsure, but there may be correlation to biological inhaled contaminants. Risk factors include:

  • Exposure to certain bacteria and viruses.
  • Chemical exposure such as pesticides or fumes.
  • Mold exposure.

Symptoms shared with other common heart diseases may make diagnosis difficult.

  • Abnormal heart rhythms, including racing, skipping, or fluttering heartbeats.
  • Light-headedness or fainting due to decreased blood flow to the brain.
  • Chest pain, caused by decreased blood flow in the heart vessels.
  • Shortness of breath, abnormal swelling in the legs, and abnormal swelling in the abdomen due to fluid retention.

Diagnosis may require a battery of tests to eliminate other possible causes.

If normal treatment for common heart conditions fails to relieve symptoms, doctors may seek answers through:

  • Blood tests
  • Heart rhythm tests
  • Ultrasound imaging of heart
  • Stress tests
  • Angiogram studies
  • Biopsy (examining a tissue sample)

Treatment options address heart and immune system.

Treating cardiac sarcoidosis may require a combination of treatments. The goal is to treat as early as possible, before permanent heart damage can occur.

Immunosuppression medications may reduce production of granulomas.

Pacemaker or implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) can manage or correct heart rhythm.

Ablation creates scar tissue to stop parts of heart muscle from triggering irregular rhythms.

Heart transplant may be necessary in some cases.