This Surprising Substance May Help Treat Sarcoidosis

It’s not every day that you hear about how nicotine may help lung disease. However, researchers at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center are asking this question.
They’re testing whether or not nicotine patches can help treat patients with sarcoidosis. Sarcoidosis is a rare chronic lung disease, which you can learn more about by clicking here.
Sarcoidosis is easy to mistake for other diseases such as pneumonia, lung nodules, scar tissue, or lung cancer. Because of this, it’s often diagnosed incorrectly. It varies between different patients and can affect vital organs besides the lungs.

Without treatment, sarcoidosis can cause longterm significant lung damage, and even be fatal. It differs from other lung diseases, because the chief complaint isn’t shortness of breath. Instead, patients suffer from severe fatigue, which prevents them from participating in daily activities.

While there are existing treatments, including steroids, they have serious problems. Many come with side effects which are even more abrasive than symptoms of sarcoidosis itself. Longterm use exposes patients to cataracts, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. The patient community needs more sustainable options.

Dr. Elliot Crouser, a pulmonologist with a focus in sarcoidosis, sees this need. He’s running a clinical trial at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center to try out a new type of treatment. His surprising new strategy? Treat sarcoidosis patients with nicotine patches, usually used to help people quit cigarettes.
Dr. Crouser explains that we have known two important things about nicotine since around 2000. One is that there is building evidence that nicotine has anti-inflammatory properties. The other thing we learned is that studies show that smokers actually had a lower chance of developing sarcoidosis.

An initial study found optimistic results. There’s evidence that nicotine patches provided some benefit. Now Dr. Crouser is expanding this into a randomized trial at a larger scale. The Cleveland Clinic is another organization participating in this research.

Participants in the study are randomly given a patch to wear for seven months. Some of these patches contain nicotine, while the others are placebo. Researchers will asses lung function and track how the disease progresses or improves.

What causes sarcoidosis? Nobody is entirely positive. However, there is a consensus among experts that environmental factors play a large role. The symptoms change so much from one patient to the next, so it’s hard to figure out what triggers to look out for. Many patients experience either remission or recovery. However, many other patients must live with sarcoidosis as a chronic condition.

So much about where sarcoidosis comes from and how to treat it is still unknown. Fortunately, we’re learning. Researchers, such as Dr. Crouser, are asking questions, running trials, and trying to piece the information we have together. Diagnoses cases have increased in recent years. Experts speculate that the spike in diagnoses has risen out of wider awareness and improved screening tests. Still, this doesn’t mean that they’ve ruled out the possibility that an environmental trigger is causing more people to be affected.

We need more research to fully understand how to approach sarcoidosis. We may have a long way to go. However, this new study is an exciting start on the journey to learn about sarcoidosis and improve quality of life for the rising number of patients who struggle with it.

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