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The autoimmune disease known as Sjogren’s syndrome occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the salivary glands, drying out the mouth and eyes. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system creates extra antibodies in the bloodstream that assault the body’s healthy tissues, damaging them and hindering normal function. 

What is Sjogren’s Syndrome? 

Sjogren’s syndrome relates to the salivary and lacrimal glands that produce saliva and tears, respectively. Inflammation of these glands, prompted by the immune system, causes them to malfunction and produce significantly less. Naturally, this condition creates dryness in areas that are typically lubricated. 

The term primary Sjogren’s syndrome is used when the disorder causes gland inflammation and isn’t associated with another connective tissues disorder. When Sjorgren’s syndrome is linked to Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune diseases that target connective tissues, it’s referred to as secondary Sjogren’s syndrome. 

Signs and symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome 

Since Sjogren’s affects two specific areas of the body, symptoms may vary according to the individual and the severity of the disease. Symptoms for inflammation of the lacrimal gland include: 

  • Dry eyes
  • Gritty feeling when blinking or with eyes closed
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Eye infection

Symptoms for inflamed salivary glands caused by Sjogren’s include but are not limited to: 

  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Dry cough 
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty swallowing

Other symptoms triggers by Sjogren’s syndrome are: 

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Joint pain
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon 
  • Lung inflammation

What are the complications, and who is affected by Sjogren’s Syndrome? 

If not caught early on, complications from Sjogren’s can become increasingly severe. Since the autoimmune disorder affects multiple body systems, these complications may vary. Timely diagnosis and routine treatment may slow the progress of certain complications but currently, there is no cure for this autoimmune disorder. 

This list is not comprehensive, as there can be a wide variety of complications linked to this autoimmune disorder, however, these are some of the more common ones. 

Eye problems 

  • Frequent dry eyes could lead to irritation, scarring, and permanent damage to the outermost layer of the eye. 
  • Vision problems may develop overtime if eyes remain constantly dry and irritated. 

Lung problems 

  • A widening of the airways in the lungs overtime is just one potential complication brought on by Sjogren’s syndrome. 
  • Lung infections
  • Scarring of the lungs 

Pregnancy complications 

  • Rash on the baby, present for an average of two weeks
  • Heart problems for the newborn 

More likely to develop Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 

  • People with Sjogren’s syndrome are 5 times more likely to develop non-hodgkin lymphoma  

Miscellaneous complications 

  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis 
  • Neuropathy
  • Cystitis
  • Kidney function issues

Sjogren’s affects more females than males – approximately 90% of Sjogren’s diagnoses are for female patients. The autoimmune disorder can develop at any age for either sex but more diagnoses happen from aged 40 and on. 

Diagnosis and Treatment 

Sjogren’s is frequently difficult to diagnose as its symptoms run the gamut and affect a host of internal organs, tissues, and systems. Blood tests and ophthalmological tests are commonly used to check for this autoimmune disorder as well as salivary flow rates or a biopsy of the lower lip. If an initial test is inconclusive, your rheumatologist will move on to another set of tests. 

Treating Sjogren’s combines at home treatments for the disease’s symptoms paired with medical intervention. When Sjogren’s begins to act in conjunction with other autoimmune disorders, such as Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Raynaud’s, a combination of treatments may be necessary. 

Treating symptoms of Sjogren’s 

  • Eye drops. For those with dry eyes, artificial tears may reduce itchiness, irritation, and slow the progression of vision impairment. Over-the-counter drops may be purchased readily at drug stores or your doctor may prescribe you a stronger option with steroids. 
  • Tear duct surgery. Doctors can place a blockage in the eye to stop the draining of tears so that whatever moisture is produced, it won’t drain away. 
  • Pilocarpine. This medicine helps the body produce more tears and saliva. 
  • Good oral hygiene. Those with dry mouth symptoms should practice superior oral hygiene to prevent tooth decay. 
  • Saliva substitutes. OTC products that promote saliva production help curtail dry-mouth discomfort. 
  • Diet. This is especially important when handling symptoms of Sjogren’s disease. A healthy diet full of oils, omega-3 fatty acids, and supplements can compensate for loss of liquid and moisture elsewhere. 
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarette smoke. Even those without Sjogren’s feel dehydrated and stiff after a night out drinking. Sjogren’s sufferers may feel even worse as both of these habits dehydrate the body quickly. 
  • Vaginal lubricants. Sex may be uncomfortable for women with Sjogren’s syndrome because they may have trouble creating natural lubricant. Using an over-the-counter lubricant can help ease discomfort and make sex pleasurable again. 
  • Antifungal medication. Oral thrush is a common occurrence for those with this autoimmune disease. They may need to take anti-fungal medication when the condition arises. 

Next steps: Scheduling and Appointment Info 

If you have diagnosed Sjogren’s syndrome or you experience a number of its associated symptoms, it’s wise to establish a relationship with an Orlando Rheumatologist. You can also find COVID-19 updates for patients, including news about the vaccine, emerging variants, and more. We make healthcare easy so you can get the help you deserve.