Sjogren’s Syndrome

What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

The characteristic symptoms of Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome are due to dryness of the eyes and mouth. Sjogren’s syndrome often accompanies other autoimmune disorders — such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. These diseases are marked by inflammation of your connective tissues, and it’s common for people with Sjogren’s syndrome to also have a connective tissue disorder.

What causes Sjogren’s syndrome?

In Sjogren’s syndrome, your immune system attacks healthy tissue. The mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of your eyes and mouth are usually affected first, resulting in decreased production of tears and saliva. The disease can damage other tissues as well. Primarily, Sjogren’s syndrome affects females more often than males and can occur at any age but is more common in people over 40. There is no cure, but treatments can relieve many symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome?

The primary symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include dry mouth (due to a decrease in the production of saliva) and dry eyes (due to a decrease in the production of tears)

Other related symptoms may include, difficulty swallowing due to lack of saliva, dryness of the nose and throat, hoarseness, skin rashes or dry skin, fatigue, pain in the joints, yellowing of the skin, dry cough, or enlarged glands.

Many patients with Sjogren’s syndrome have symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is often due to decreased flow of saliva which helps to neutralize stomach acid.  GERD can cause heartburn or chronic throat irritation and may require treatment with proton pump inhibitors or other medications.
 
In addition, patients with Sjogren’s syndrome are often at higher risk of gastric or duodenal ulcers, because they may take prednisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
 
There is a higher incidence of a type of liver disease known as primary biliary cirrhosis in patients with Sjogren’s syndrome.  A liver blood test (alkaline phosphatase) is usually elevated in this disease.

How is Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may also order blood tests, X-ray, salivary gland biopsy, tests for tear production, eye exams, and tests for saliva production.

How is Sjogren’s syndrome treated?

Your doctor will tailor your treatment plan to help relieve symptoms. Your doctor may recommend medications or treatments to improve lubrication of the eye and mouth. Your doctor may also recommend using artificial tears and eye drops, increasing your fluid intake, using moisturizers, stopping smoking, increasing humidity, and saline nasal sprays.