Sjogren's Syndrome is a autoimmune condition, which is responsible for many misunderstood symptoms that often accompanies rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and polymyositis. Sjogren's syndrome is often defined by its two most common symptoms dry eyes and a dry mouth.
These rheumatic 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. Sjogren's that results from a rheumatic condition is classified as secondary Sjogren's syndrome. Primary Sjogren's syndrome occurs by itself.
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. This can lead to problems from difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) to dental cavities to light-sensitive eyes to corneal ulcers. Damage may also occur to tissues of your lungs, kidneys and liver.
Although you can develop Sjogren's syndrome at any age, most people are older than 40 at diagnosis. The condition is nine times more likely to occur in women than in men. There's no cure for Sjogren's, but treatments can relieve many of the symptoms.
Signs and symptoms
Sjogren's syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms are similar to those caused by other diseases and can vary from person to person. In addition, the side effects of a number of medications can mimic some signs and symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome. Still, typical signs and symptoms of Sjogren's include:
The moisture-secreting glands of your mouth are among the first mucous membranes that Sjogren's syndrome attacks. The result is decreased production of saliva.
Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. This means that your body attacks its own cells and tissues. It's unknown why this happens, but researchers believe that a combination of factors causes something to go wrong with your immune system. These factors may be related to heredity, hormones or a viral infection. In the case of Sjogren's syndrome, they cause the overproduction of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which attack and damage your moisture-producing glands. They can also damage other organs, including your lungs, kidneys and liver.
Although anyone can develop Sjogren's syndrome, it typically occurs in people with one or more known risk factors. These include:
When to seek medical advice
Sjogren's syndrome tends to develop slowly. But once symptoms occur they can lead to complications that require medical attention. If you notice such symptoms as unusually dry eyes or a dry mouth that lasts for more than three months, seek medical advice.
How do you know if your eyes are unusually dry? If the dryness persists or if you frequently feel as if you have grit or sand in your eyes, you're probably experiencing unusually dry eyes. Or you may find you're using artificial tears more than three times a day. Important symptoms of oral dryness include daily dry mouth for more than three months or recurrent or persistent swollen salivary glands. If you drink liquids to help swallow dry foods, you may also have an unusually dry mouth.
A diagnosis of Sjogren's syndrome can be missed or delayed if you report only individual symptoms to your dentist or eye doctor. Therefore, it's important to also let your primary doctor know about a symptom or combination of signs and symptoms. If you have a rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, tell your doctor about any symptoms that may be related to Sjogren's.
Be aware that many medications can cause dry-mouth symptoms, including drugs used to treat high blood pressure, depression and insomnia. In addition, many drugs — such as phenothiazines, tricyclic antidepressants, antispasmodics and medications used to treat Parkinson's disease — can cause symptoms of dryness throughout your body. If your medications cause you to experience symptoms associated with dryness, ask your doctor whether alternative medications are an option for you.