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Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease which causes inflammation and dysfunction of the moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth. Tears and saliva are decreased in people with Sjogren's syndrome, resulting in dry eyes and a dry mouth. This condition is often seen together with other immune system disorders, such as arthritis or lupus. Keep reading to find out more about Sjogren’s syndrome.

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Causes

An autoimmune disorder is when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s cells and tissues— in this case, it attacks the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands in the eyes and mouth. There is no known cause of Sjogren’s syndrome, although this condition does seem to have a genetic factor. If a person in your family has another type of autoimmune disease, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, you may have a higher risk of developing Sjogren’s syndrome. Experts believe that this condition may be triggered by a combination of genetic, hormonal, environmental, and other factors. Also, most patients diagnosed with this condition are female.

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Symptoms

There are two main symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome, and they are: Dry eyes. You may feel that your eyes burn, itch, or feel gritty. Dry mouth. It may be difficult to swallow or speak. A chronic dry mouth can also lead to dental decay, cavities, gum disease, mouth sores, hoarseness, abnormality of taste, and dry cough. Other, less common, symptoms that one with Sjogren’s syndrome may experience include:

  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Skin Rashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Swollen salivary glands
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Risk Factors

Sjogren’s syndrome most commonly occurs in women over the age of 40. You are also at a greater risk of developing this condition if you have a rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

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Diagnosis

To diagnose a patient with Sjogren’s syndrome, first, the doctor will determine how much fluid is being produced in the eyes and mouth and that they are in fact dry. Scans may be done to view the salivary glands— often, in patients with Sjogren’s syndrome, the salivary glands are larger, harder, or tender. If a biopsy is done on the salivary gland, it will show abnormalities. Blood tests may show extra antibodies in the blood, such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA), and Sjogren’s syndrome A and B (SS-A and SS-B) antibodies. If a patient is diagnosed with primary Sjogren’s syndrome, he has no other underlying rheumatic disorder. Secondary Sjogren’s syndrome occurs with another rheumatic disorder, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

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Treatment

Since there is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, treatment is largely focused on management of symptoms. People with mild symptoms may manage their condition by frequently using over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, and by sipping water. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help you manage your symptoms, including:

  • Prescription eye drops. Eye drops can help to decrease inflammation in the eye for moderate to severe dry eyes.
  • Medication to increase saliva production. You may be given tablets to take orally that will increase saliva production.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If you have arthritis symptoms, you may be instructed to take NSAIDs to manage the pain.
  • Antifungal Medication. Sometimes, patients with Sjogren’s syndrome may develop a yeast infection in the mouth, which needs to be treated with antifungal medication.
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Complications

People with Sjogren’s syndrome are much more likely to get dental cavities and yeast infections in the mouth (oral thrush). They may also experience vision problems, like blurred vision, due to dry eyes. Lees often, Sjogren’s syndrome patients will develop:

  • Lung, kidney, or liver problems. Sjogren’s syndrome may lead to inflammation and infection of the lungs, such as bronchitis or pneumonia; problems with kidney function; and hepatitis or cirrhosis in the liver.
  • Lymphoma. Sjogren’s syndrome patients are at greater risk of developing cancer of the lymph nodes. Peripheral neuropathy. Sjogren’s syndrome may lead to nerve problems. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and burning in the hands and feet.

Patients with Sjogren’s syndrome can manage their condition with lifestyle changes and home remedies. They should keep lubricating eye drops with them, as well as artificial saliva spray or lozenges. They can increase the humidity in their homes and stay away from blowing air (from a fan, air conditioner, or heater). With good oral health, they can also decrease the chance of cavities and tooth loss.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.