Sjögren’s syndrome impacts people of any age. But symptoms most commonly appear between 45 to 55 years old, with women suffering about 10 times more than men.
About 50% of these people also have another rheumatologic disease, most often systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Here at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC in Manchester and Middleton, Connecticut, our skilled providers have a great deal of experience treating patients with Sjögren's syndrome and helping them manage their condition. Working with you, they can help you reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
What is Sjögren's syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease. That means your body’s immune system mistakenly treats your own cells as “invaders,” and attacks them.
In this case, the immune system attacks the glands that produce saliva and tears, and may eventually attack other parts of your body, such as your thyroid, joints, and lungs.
A dry mouth and dry eyes are the most common symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome, with irritation, burning, and grittiness accompanying the latter. Swelling in the glands around the face is also a common symptom, and this may be linked to difficulty swallowing and acid reflux. Some people also describe dryness in the nose, throat, skin, and vaginal area.
As the disease progresses, additional symptoms may appear, including:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Skin rashes on the arms and legs
- Inflammation in the lungs, liver, and kidney
- Persistent cough
The symptoms associated with Sjögren's syndrome can produce additional complications:
Saliva plays an important role in protecting your teeth from bacteria. When your mouth is chronically dry, bacteria can linger, and you’re more prone to developing caries.
When the mouth is chronically dry, opportunistic yeast, such as those that cause oral thrush, are more likely to take hold and cause an infection.
Tears are necessary to keep the eye lubricated and functioning properly. When the eyes are dry, this can lead to blurred vision, light sensitivity, and even corneal damage.
What causes Sjögren's syndrome?
No one knows exactly what causes Sjögren's syndrome. But abnormal proteins in patients’ blood can indicate the autoimmune disorder. The characteristic decrease in tears and saliva production occurs when inflammation damages the glands that normally produce these fluids. Research suggests that genetic factors and possibly bacterial or viral infections can make certain people more likely to develop this condition.
How is Sjögren's syndrome diagnosed?
Sjögren’s symptoms frequently overlap with symptoms from other diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. In addition, dryness can also occur as a side effect of many medications, making a positive diagnosis problematic.
Rheumatologists are the providers primarily responsible for diagnosing and managing Sjögren’s syndrome. Their diagnosis is usually based on medical history, a series of tests, and ruling out any other disorder that has symptom overlap. They can also get input from an eye doctor or dentist who might run fluid tests if they suspect the patient may have Sjögren’s.
One of the clearest tests for Sjögren’s is a blood test for the SSA antibody. However, about 30% of those with Sjögren’s test negative for the antibody, so it’s not definitive. A lip biopsy that tests positive is regarded as the “gold standard” for diagnosing Sjögren’s.
How is Sjögren's syndrome treated?
There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, so treatment is based on symptom management.
OTC eye drops and artificial saliva preparations can help combat the dryness and pain, but you should check with your doctor before using them, as he/she may have product preferences and tips for how best to use them.
If the OTC remedies don’t help, there are many products your doctor can prescribe for both dry eyes and dry mouth.
Some patients need immunosuppressive medications to treat internal organ inflammation, and doctors may prescribe other medications for other systemic reactions or severe flare-ups.
Sjögren’s impacts each patient differently, so here at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut, LLC we draw up a personalized plan for you, in conjunction with your dentist and eye care specialist.
Are you suffering from excessive dry eyes and dry mouth? Do you think you have Sjögren’s syndrome? We can help. Visit us online to book an appointment at one of our two locations.