Sjogren’s syndrome is most often characterized by dryness of the eyes and mouth, but it can also affect the skin, lungs, blood vessels, nasal passages, throat, kidneys, joints, vaginal canal and the digestive system. It is an autoimmune disease which means that the immune system attacks certain areas of the body. Sjogren’s syndrome usually impacts the tear glands and salivary glands first. It most often strikes women over 40, and may be caused by genetics, viral contact or bacterial exposure.
The symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome may include:
Sjogren’s syndrome is one of cluster of conditions that fall into the category of autoimmune disorders. In Sjogren’s, the immune system of the patient attacks the glands that create tears and saliva, resulting in extreme dry eyes and dry mouth.
While the cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is linked to genes, scientists believe that the condition also requires some mechanism in the patient, such as a viral or bacterial infection that then triggers the immune system to malfunction. Sjogren’s syndrome is more prevalent in women and in people over 40.
Sjogren’s can also cause joint pain, chronic fatigue, skin rashes and dry skin or dryness of the vaginal area. Long term, Sjogren’s syndrome may also cause damage to other organs in the body such as the thyroid, kidneys, liver, lungs or the nervous system.
Sjogren’s syndrome often appears in patients who suffer from some sort of rheumatic illness, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus disease.
After possible blood testing, imaging, eye dryness testing and a lip tissue biopsy to diagnosis Sjogren’s syndrome, treatment may include:
Since a lack of saliva can contribute to tooth decay and other dental problems, it is important to brush and floss after each meal. The use of fluoride and germ-killing mouthwash is also advised. Increasing indoor humidity can help those who experience dry skin.
Because Sjogren’s syndrome is genetic in nature, prevention is not possible. What can be prevented is long term damage from the condition through management of the disease and good self-care.
Patients suffering from Sjogren’s must use eye lubricant and artificial tears, as well as some sort of saline spray for the soft nasal tissues and to help treat chronic dry mouth. There are not many medications that treat Sjogren’s, but high fluid intake has proven helpful as well as increasing indoor humidity levels. Good dental care is essential as patients with Sjogren’s are at higher risk for cavities, gum disease and other oral health issues.
To combat dry skin, patients should avoid hot showers and use good moisturizers. As with any autoimmune disease, good self care in terms of rest, weight, exercise and diet are important in managing the effects and symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome.