Dry eyes and mouth are two hallmark symptoms of this immune system disorder. Sjogren’s Syndrome is often diagnosed in tandem with other autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. A decreased production of saliva and tears is caused by mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth. Most people who are diagnosed with this disorder are over 40 but anyone can be affected at any time. Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) typically affects more women than men and treatment is based on alleviating the symptoms, which can disappear over time.
In addition to dry eyes and mouth, Sjogren’s sufferers can experience pain, swelling or stiffness of joints, a persistent dry cough, vaginal dryness, skin rashes, dry skin, prolonged periods of fatigue and swollen salivary glands. As with other autoimmune disorders, Sjogren’s occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s cells and tissues. It’s unclear why some people develop this disorder while others do not. It’s thought that genetics may put some people at a higher risk for developing it. Certain triggers, such as bacteria or a virus, may also play a role in its development. Sjogren’s syndrome can also affect other parts of the body including kidneys, liver, lungs, nerves, skin, thyroid and joints.
Complications that could stem from Sjogren’s Syndrome usually involve the eyes and mouth. They include dry eyes that can cause light sensitivity, blurred vision and corneal ulcers; oral thrush, or an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth; and cavities because teeth are protected by saliva. Other less common complications can affect the lungs, kidney or liver. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, kidney problems, cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis. Unborn babies can also be affected, though rarely. Pregnant women who have Sjogren’s Syndrome are at a slightly increased risk of having a baby with heart problems. Lymph node cancer is also a slight risk for Sjogren’s sufferers, and nerve damage can lead to numbness, tingling and burning in the hands and feet.
This disorder may be hard to diagnose because symptoms often mirror those of other disorders. Side effects of some medications can also mirror symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome. There are several tests that can help doctors make the diagnosis. These include blood tests to detect the presence of antibodies common in Sjogren’s, evidence of inflammatory conditions and levels of some blood cells. Other tests include: eye exams, urine sample, saliva analysis, chest X-ray, imaging tests and biopsies.
The dry eyes and mouth can often be managed with over-the-counter remedies and drinking more water. Others may need prescription drugs or surgery. Drugs may be prescribed to increase saliva production or to suppress the immune system. Some pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may help alleviate pain from arthritis-type symptoms. A minor surgery can also help alleviate dry eyes.
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