Understanding Sjögren’s Syndrome and the
In a normal, healthy body, the immune
system attacks foreign bacteria or invaders. However, sometimes the immune
system starts attacking your own body, because it (mistakenly) thinks foreign
material is present. If this happens, it causes destruction of healthy tissue.
This condition is called an autoimmune disorder.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune
disorder that primarily affects salivary and lacrimal glands. These glands help
the body create moisture in the eyes and mouth, in the form of saliva and
tears. In a person with Sjögren’s syndrome, the body fails to produce
This is a chronic, systemic disorder that
affects one to four million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of
The condition is typically diagnosed as
either primary or secondary. In primary Sjögren’s syndrome, there’s no other
autoimmune disease present. Secondary Sjögren’s syndrome is diagnosed when an
individual has another autoimmune disease. Primary Sjögren’s syndrome also
tends to be more aggressive and can cause more dryness than the secondary type.
What Are the Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome?
mouth is a common symptom, which can increase your risk of
cavities. It can also make it more difficult to speak or swallow. Chewing gum
or sucking on candies may help with this symptom.
of the eyes also often occurs. This may feel like a burning
sensation or like something is in your eye.
Sjögren’s syndrome can affect the whole
body. Some individuals have vaginal dryness, dry skin, fatigue, rashes, or
joint pain. Sjögren’s syndrome can cause inflammation of organs like the
kidneys or lungs. If you have constant inflammation, your doctor might
prescribe medications to help prevent organ damage. These medications are
called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. These help tamp down the immune
system even more than immune-suppressing drugs.
Risk Factors for Sjögren’s Syndrome
There’s no one specific cause or risk
factor for Sjögren’s syndrome. Nine out of 10 people
who have the condition are women, and post-menopausal women are particularly
likely to develop the problem. Research is currently being done to see if
estrogen is associated with the condition. Other autoimmune disorders are often
present, and a family history of the condition appears to increase your risk of
developing the syndrome.
How Is Sjögren’s Syndrome Diagnosed?
No one diagnostic test exists for this
condition. Because the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome are generalized symptoms,
your doctor will run a variety of tests to diagnose the problem. In addition to
a physical exam and a medical history, your doctor may perform blood tests to
check for certain antibodies that are linked to Sjögren’s syndrome. Eye tests
and a lip biopsy can help check eye moisture and salivary gland production. A
special X-ray of the salivary glands, called a saliogram, may also be ordered.
Tell your doctor about any medications or
supplements you’re taking. Side effects of certain drugs are similar to the
symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome.
How Is Sjögren’s Syndrome Treated?
There’s no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome,
but it can be treated. Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. Treatments
that replace moisture are typically prescribed, such as eye drops or lotions.
If an individual has joint problems, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended.
Severe symptoms may require immunosuppressants or
corticosteroids. Getting plenty of rest and eating a healthy diet can help
Are There Any Complications of Sjögren’s
A possible complication of Sjögren’s
syndrome is an increased risk of developing lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system,
which is related to the immune system. Tell your doctor if your main salivary
gland changes sizes or seems swollen. The following can all be symptoms of
- night sweats,
- unexplained weight loss
Call your doctor if you have any of these