A large proportion of sarcoidosis patients live with severe chronic pain despite the heavy use of painkillers, including opioids, a recent survey found.
In addition, pain considerably impacts their walking ability, sleep, and enjoyment of life. Based on the survey results, researchers argue that the nerve damage that causes pain in sarcoidosis may be more common than previously acknowledged.
“We felt it was important to understand how sarcoidosis affects the lives of patients, and these new data add to the available evidence regarding the magnitude of the health-related problems that sarcoidosis patients face on a daily basis,” Ginger Spitzer, executive director at FSR, said in a press release.
Among the main survey results was the finding that a majority of patients report having chronic pain of moderate to severe intensity, despite heavy use of opioids and other pain therapies.
Researchers are continuing to analyze the survey data, which also explored issues such as the impact of pain on activities of daily living and quality of life.
“Once our data analyses have been completed, we will present the results to the broader healthcare community, such that both patients and providers share in the important new information this sarcoidosis outreach effort has uncovered,” Spitzer said.
The survey showed that a large proportion of patients stated that pain affected their walking ability, sleep, and enjoyment of life either “quite a lot” or “very much.”
“Given these findings, we hope that patients suffering from rare and orphan diseases like sarcoidosis will be prioritized as part of the national conversation on how to address chronic pain, and the underlying disease that causes it, without relying on medicines with the potential for addiction and harm to patients,” added Spitzer, referring to the country’s heavy use of opioids.
While many patients reported pain, only about one-third said they had been diagnosed with neuropathy, or nerve damage. In sarcoidosis, it is the damage to the nerves that causes pain.
“Given the pathophysiology of the condition, and the large number of patients in chronic pain despite treatment, a sizable number of patients with sarcoidosis may have undiagnosed neuropathy,” said Dan Culver, a sarcoidosis specialist at The Cleveland Clinic.
Culver said that, in addition to pain, the survey showed that a large number of patients showed other signs of nerve damage. Vision and gastrointestinal problems, muscle weakness, sexual dysfunction, and temperature swings may all be caused by damaged nerves.
“I’m very eager to conduct additional analysis on this dataset, as these findings are important in helping to understand the scope and severity of the problem,” Culver said.
“There are no currently approved treatments for sarcoidosis, with physicians prescribing a variety of symptom-directed treatments off-label in an attempt to improve patient quality of life, often with significant side effects,” he said. “These new data underscore the high degree of pain and disability present in sarcoidosis patients, and hopefully will help expedite solutions for this extreme unmet medical need.”