Sjogren’s Syndrome

What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?

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.

What are the Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome?

The symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome may include:

  • Uncomfortably dry eyes that may burn, feel gritty or itchy
  • Very dry mouth that may result in difficulty swallowing and speaking
  • Swollen, painful and/or stiff joints
  • Swelling of the salivary glands
  • Dry skin
  • Skin irritation
  • Unproductive nagging cough
  • Ongoing fatigue

Sjogren’s Syndrome Causes

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.

How is Sjogren’s Syndrome Treated?

After possible blood testing, imaging, eye dryness testing and a lip tissue biopsy to diagnosis Sjogren’s syndrome, treatment may include:

  • Artificial tears
  • Medication to increase saliva and tear production
  • Medication to suppress the immune system
  • Malaria medication (Hydroxychloroquine) may be beneficial
  • Surgical placement of tear duct plugs
  • Sipping water often
  • Hard sugarless candy to maintain moisture in the mouth
  • Artificial saliva
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Lotion for dry skin
  • Water soluble lubricant for personal dryness
  • Treatment of specific complications

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.

Sjogren’s Syndrome Prevention

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.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
April 09, 2018