What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is a systemic autoimmune disease meaning it affects the entire body and all aspects of your life. Almost 4 million Americans suffer with Sjogren’s. 90% of patients are women of all racial and ethnic groups in their 50s and 60s. About 50% of the time, Sjogren’s occurs alone. This is called primary Sjogren’s. The other half of cases are called secondary Sjogren’s because they co-occur with another autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or scleroderma.
Sjogren’s is a complex slowly progressive disorder. After rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s is the most common chronic autoimmune rheumatic disease. It primarily affects the moisture producing glands in the mouth and eyes. However, because Sjogren’s is a rheumatic disease it can also affect the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles causing pain, swelling, redness and interfere with function. It can also affect the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and nervous system. Treatment is important to avoid complications.
What are the symptoms of Sjogren’s?
Dry eyes and dry mouth are the primary symptoms, but joint pain and fatigue are also common. Common symptoms include:
- dry mouth
- difficulty swallowing
- a sore and cracked tongue
- dry or burning throat
- dry peeling lips
- changes in taste and smell
- increased tooth decay
- dry eye
- burning eyes
- a gritty sensation in the eyes
- joint pain
- skin and vaginal dryness
- dry nose
Other more serious symptoms include
- Chronic pain
- Significantly increased risk of Depression
- Debilitating fatigue affects about 70% of patients.
What causes Sjogren’s?
The cause is not known but there is a genetic component, and exposure to a virus or bacteria could trigger the disease. Sjogren’s causes white blood cells to attack the salivary glands, tear glands and other healthy tissues.
How is Sjogren’s diagnosed?
Your Ortho Illinois rheumatologist will review your medical history and perform a physical exam. It is important to tell your doctor about the medications you take because some of them can cause symptoms similar to Sjogren’s. Medications that can cause dry mouth can include antidepressants, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications.
Blood tests will be ordered to determine whether you have autoantibodies. Other testing may include a biopsy of the salivary glands, a test of the moisture in your eyes, and a test of the dryness of your cornea. However, it is important to understand that the average time to diagnosis is about 7 years because the symptoms can be subtle and because so many body systems may be involved.
How is Sjogren’s treated?
Treatment is focused on addressing your symptoms. To relieve dry eye, your doctor may prescribe eye drops and artificial tears. Some medications are available to help restore the flow of saliva. It is important to see your dentist regularly to avoid tooth decay. Joint and muscle pain can be treated with over the counter anti-inflammatory medications. There are medications that suppress the immune system and inflammation.
When you are suffering with dry eye and dry mouth symptoms, contact Ortho Illinois. We have a team of board-certified rheumatologists who will work diligently to identify you condition and provide you with individualized treatment options based on the latest research and clinical guidelines; and including lifestyle choices that can help you live with Sjogren’s and any other autoimmune disorders.
Ortho Illinois rheumatologists are available in Rockford for your convenience. Contact us to schedule a consultation and receive the correct diagnosis and treatment from our renowned physicians.