What is Sjögren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic (long-lasting) disorder that happens when the immune system attacks the glands that make moisture in the eyes, mouth, and other parts of the body.
The main symptoms are dry eyes and mouth, but the disorder may affect other parts of the body. Many people with Sjogren’s syndrome say they feel tired often (fatigue). They also may have joint and muscle pain. In addition, the disease can damage the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system.
Who gets Sjögren’s syndrome?
Most people with Sjögren’s syndrome are women. You can get it at any age, but it is most common in people in their 40s and 50s. It occurs across all racial and ethnic groups.
What are the types of Sjögren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is divided into two categories:
- Primary form. You have this form if you do not have another rheumatic disease (a disease that causes your immune system to attack your joints, muscles, bones and other organs).
- Secondary form. You have this form if you also have another rheumatic disease, such as:
What are the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome?
The symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome vary from person to person. In some people, symptoms go back and forth between mild and severe.
The most common symptoms are:
- Dry eyes. Your eyes may burn or itch or feel like they have sand in them. Sometimes, the dryness causes blurry vision or sensitivity to bright light. You may get irritated, itchy eyelids due to inflammation.
- Dry mouth. Your mouth may feel chalky, and you may have trouble swallowing, speaking, and tasting. You may develop more cavities and mouth infections.
In some cases, Sjögren’s syndrome affects other tissues and organs and has more widespread effects on the body. These other effects may cause:
- Fatigue (feeling very tired).
- Joint pain and muscle aches and weakness.
- Dry skin, nasal passages, and throat, and a dry cough.
- Skin rashes.
- Swelling of the glands around the face and neck.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Poor concentration and memory problems.
- Numbness, tingling, and weakness, especially in your arms and legs.
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
What causes Sjögren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome happens when the immune system attacks healthy tissues. Normally, your immune system protects your body from infection and disease.
Doctors do not know what causes the immune system to turn on the body, but they believe that both genes and environmental factors are involved.
Is there a test for Sjögren’s syndrome?
There is no single test for Sjögren’s syndrome.
Your doctor may ask about your medical history, including about dryness in your eyes and mouth. Your doctor may also send you for:
- Eye tests.
- Salivary gland tests.
- Blood and other laboratory tests.
How is Sjögren’s syndrome treated?
There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, so the goals of treatment are to:
- Relieve symptoms.
- Prevent complications.
Treatments are different for each person and will depend on which parts of your body are affected. Your treatment will likely include things you can do at home to relieve eye and mouth dryness and over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Be sure to tell your doctor which medications you currently take because some make eye and mouth dryness worse.
Who treats Sjögren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is primarily treated by:
- Rheumatologists, who treat diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.
Other specialists who may be involved in your care include:
- Dentists, who care for your gums and teeth.
- Mental health professionals, who can help people cope with difficulties in the home and workplace that may result from their medical conditions.
- Nephrologists, who treat kidney disease problems.
- Neurologists, who specialize in treating diseases of the nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.
- Ophthalmologists, who specialize in the care of the eyes.
- Otolaryngologists, who specialize in caring for the ears, nose, and throat.
- Primary care doctors, such as family physicians or internal medicine specialists, who coordinate care between the different health care providers and treat other problems as they arise.
- Pulmonologists, who specialize in treating diseases of the lungs.
Living with Sjögren’s syndrome
The symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome can largely be coped with, and most people can live a normal life. The following tips can make living with Sjögren’s syndrome easier.
Caring for your eyes.
- Protect your eyes from drafts, breezes, and smoky rooms.
- Have your glasses fitted with shields on the sides, or use wraparound glasses.
- Do not use eye drops that irritate your eyes. If one brand or prescription bothers you, try another. Be sure to look for eye drops that do not contain preservatives if you regularly use them four or more times a day.
- Put humidifiers in the rooms where you spend the most time, including the bedroom.
- If you get blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), use warm compresses on your eyes. You may also gently wash the eyelids with watered down baby shampoo.
Caring for your mouth.
- Brush and floss your teeth regularly. There are fluoride toothpastes designed for people with dry mouths.
- Carry a water bottle and sip on it throughout the day to keep your mouth moist. Drinking enough water can also help with dry eyes.
- Chewing gum or sucking on hard candy helps your glands make more saliva. Try to use sugar-free gum and candy.
- Visit a dentist at least twice a year to have your teeth examined and cleaned.
- See your doctor or dentist if you have symptoms such as burning, soreness, and white patches inside your mouth.
Managing other Sjögren’s syndrome-related symptoms.
- Moisturize other dry areas.
- For dry skin, moisturize your skin regularly, especially with products made for extra dry skin.
- Use lip balms, such as those containing petroleum jelly, for dry lips.
- Use products such as vaginal moisturizers or estrogen creams for vaginal dryness.
- Use saline sprays to help with dry nose.
- Educate yourself and get support.
- Learn as much as you can about the disorder and talk with others who are dealing with it by joining a support group.
- Having a long-term condition can be hard, so visit a mental health professional if emotional problems arise.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet, and exercise regularly to help with fatigue and to help you sleep better. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise routine.
Remember to visit your health care providers regularly and to follow their directions.