The Lowdown on Sjӧgren’s Syndrome
Sjӧgren’s Syndrome is often one of the less well-known autoimmune conditions, but it can have a major effect on day-to-day life. It was first highlighted by Swedish physician, Henrik Sjӧgren, who noticed that women with arthritis also tended to have dry eyes and a dry mouth. Here’s what to know about this autoimmune condition.
Who gets Sjӧgren’s Syndrome?
Sjӧgren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune condition that’s more likely to affect women, especially between the ages of 40 and 60. It can develop at a much younger age though and it does affect some men.
If you already have an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma or lupus, you can be more likely to get Sjӧgren’s Syndrome too. This is known as secondary Sjӧgren’s Syndrome. If there isn’t any existing autoimmune condition, it’s classed as primary Sjӧgren’s Syndrome.
What causes Sjӧgren’s Syndrome?
As with autoimmune conditions in general, Sjӧgren’s Syndrome is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells. For Sjӧgren’s Syndrome, this affects parts of the body that produce tears, saliva and other fluids. The effects can extend to the joints and muscles too, which aren’t receiving the lubrication they need.
It’s thought that there may be a genetic link involved in autoimmune diseases such as Sjӧgren’s Syndrome. If you have a pre-existing susceptibility to autoimmune disease and you’re then exposed to a trigger such as an infection or a virus, it can be enough to result in Sjӧgren’s Syndrome.
Symptoms of Sjӧgren’s Syndrome
Because the immune system attacks the cells linked to fluid protection, some of the main symptoms of Sjӧgren’s Syndrome involve dryness. Symptoms can go beyond the obvious and affect the body as a whole.
Some of the main symptoms of Sjӧgren’s Syndrome include:
● Dry mouth (which may cause problems when swallowing, especially when you’re eating dry foods)
● Swollen salivary glands (and swelling of the glands in the face)
● Dry eyes (which may feel irritated, itchy, burning or gritty)
● Dry skin (which may also be itchy)
● Vaginal dryness
● Joint/muscle pain
● Cognitive problems, including memory and focus issues
● Fatigue (which can be debilitating and extreme)
● Getting frequent oral thrush infections (because of a dry mouth)
● A tendency to get cavities (because of a dry mouth)
For some people, these type of symptoms are very mild and don’t cause a huge amount of problems. For others, they can be super debilitating and have a huge impact on day-to-day life.
Because the symptoms of Sjӧgren’s Syndrome can also occur in other conditions, it can take a while to rule out other health problems that cause similar symptoms.
Diagnosing Sjӧgren’s Syndrome
Sjӧgren’s Syndrome can be misdiagnosed initially, often because the symptoms can have a lot of crossover with other conditions.
If your doctor suspects that you may have Sjӧgren’s Syndrome, there are a few tests that can be done to confirm a diagnosis. These tests include:
● Tests to see how well your tear ducts and salivary glands are working.
● Eye examinations to see if you’re experiencing dry eyes and if there’s any damage to the cornea.
● Blood tests can check for antibodies, which will strongly suggest that your immune system is in overdrive.
● A biopsy of the skin on your upper lip and/or saliva glands on your face may also be used to officially diagnose Sjӧgren’s Syndrome.
Treatment for Sjӧgren’s Syndrome
With Sjӧgren’s Syndrome, treatment tends to be focused on keeping symptoms to a minimum so that there’s less potential for complications.
Eye drops and saliva substitutes can replace the fluids that your body isn’t producing naturally. Some medications can also do this. You can also try sipping water regularly or chewing sugar free chewing gum to keep your mouth moist.
This may not completely get rid of dryness, but it can make it less uncomfortable. It can also reduce the potential for cavities, infections and other complications that can develop because of a dry mouth and dry eyes.
For more severe Sjӧgren’s Syndrome, medications that suppress the immune system may be recommended.
What’s the prognosis?
If you develop Sjӧgren’s Syndrome, there’s currently no cure for the condition. That being said, there are things that you can do to manage symptoms and still have a good quality of life.
Most people with Sjӧgren’s Syndrome stay healthy and while there is potential for getting infections and cavities, it’s fairly rare to get serious complications. Tackling dryness, being aware of the potential for infections and staying on top of your dental health is super important for minimizing some of the more common effects of Sjӧgren’s Syndrome.