Sjogren’s Syndrome Treatment Options
Sjogren’s syndrome (pronounced “SHOW-grins”) is an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms most commonly associated with Sjogren’s syndrome are dry eyes and dry mouth. The condition affects the mucus membranes and moisture-secreting glands, so patients experience less tears and saliva.
In Sjogren’s syndrome, the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. Doctors believe that certain genes may put some at higher risk for the disorder, but there also seems to be a trigger – such as a viral or bacterial infection – that brings on the syndrome. It is also common for people with Sjogren’s syndrome to have a rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Sjogren’s syndrome targets the glands that make tears and saliva, but can eventually move on to affect the joints, thyroid, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin and/or nerves. The condition is more common among women, and individuals 40 years and older.
How is Sjogren’s syndrome treated?
Depending on the parts of the body affected by Sjogren’s syndrome, treatment is often focused on alleviating the symptoms, such as using eye drops and drinking more water to increase fluid in the mouth.
Treatments will also vary based on the symptoms experienced by the patient. Some people need prescription medication, while others may need a surgical procedure.
Treating Dry Eyes and Inflammation
Many people can treat their dry eyes with artificial tears. A gel to help lubricate the eyes can be used overnight. Hot compresses and eyelid cleansers can help those with eyelid inflammation. Gentle eyelid massage can also help relieve blocked oil glands in the eyelid. Prescription eye drops such as cyclosporine (Restasis) or lifitegrast (Xiidra) may also be recommended.
In more severe cases, a procedure called a punctal occlusion may be recommended. In this minor surgery, the doctor will seal the tear ducts that drain tears from your eyes to help relieve dry eyes. Collagen or silicone plugs are inserted into the ducts to help preserve the moisture in your eyes.
Treating Dry Mouth
Patients often find it helpful to drink more water to increase moisture in their mouth. In addition, sugarless candy and chewing sugar free gum can help boost saliva production. An artificial saliva product may also help. Medications such as pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac) can increase the production of saliva, and sometimes help boost tears.
Patients with dry mouth from Sjogren’s syndrome are at a higher risk for cavities, so they should make sure to brush and floss after meals and snacks, see a dentist regularly and talk with their dentist about fluoride treatments to help fight cavities.
Yeast infections in the mouth, or thrush, can sometimes be associated with the dry mouth caused by Sjogren’s syndrome. Antifungal medications can be prescribed for this.
If you develop arthritis symptoms along with Sjogren’s syndrome, which can sometimes happen, your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or medications specifically targeted to arthritis. Low-dose steroids such as prednisone can reduce joint pain.
Overall Syndrome Symptoms
To broadly treat the symptoms associated with Sjogren’s, your rheumatologist might suggest hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil). A drug that was designed to treat malaria, hydroxychloroquine can be effective in treating Sjogren’s syndrome. Immunosuppressant drugs such as methotrexate (Trexall) may also be discussed with you by your rheumatologist.