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Sjögren's (pronounced SHOW-grins) syndrome is an autoimmune disease. That means the immune system (Read about "The Immune System") attacks the body's own cells. In Sjögren's syndrome, the immune system targets moisture-producing glands such as the salivary glands and the tear-producing glands resulting in dryness in the mouth and eyes. (Read about dry mouth in "Oral Health" "Dry Eye") The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) says other parts of the body can be affected as well, resulting in a wide range of possible symptoms, but the main symptoms involve the mouth and the eyes. The medical term for dry eyes is called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS, and dry mouth is called xerostomia. Your healthcare provider (HCP) may use these terms when talking to you about Sjögren's syndrome.
Experts believe one to 4 million people in the United States have the disease. Most, 9 out of 10, are women, according to the Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation (SSF). It can occur at any age, but it usually is diagnosed after age 40 and can affect people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It's rare in children, but it can occur.
There are two types of Sjögren's. Primary Sjögren's occurs by itself, and secondary Sjögren's occurs with another disease, according to NIAMS. SSF says that patients are about evenly split between primary and secondary. The most common diseases that exist with Sjögren's, according to SSF are:
NIAMS says there are other diseases and conditions that are often found in conjunction with Sjögren's. They include:
Lymphoma (Read about "Lymphoma") is of special concern to Sjögren's patients. NIAMS says that about 5 percent of Sjögren's sufferers develop lymphoma. SSF adds that one study showed that the incidence of lymphoma was 44 times higher in Sjögren's patients.
There are a number of tests that a doctor can use to diagnose Sjögren's. (Read about "Laboratory Testing") Blood tests check for antibodies. NIAMS says people with primary disease are more likely to have certain antibodies (substances that help fight a particular disease) circulating in their blood than people with secondary disease. These antibodies are called SS-A and SS-B. SSF says that 70 percent of patients test positive for SS-A and 40 percent for SS-B. People with primary Sjögren's are more likely (about 70 percent of patients test positive, according to SSF) to have antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) in their blood. ANAs are autoantibodies, which are directed against the body.
Common eye and mouth tests, according to NIAMS include:
Treatment is different for each person, depending on what parts of the body are affected. But in all cases, your HCP will want to help relieve your symptoms, especially dryness. Ask your doctor whether any of your medications contribute to dryness and, if so, how to reduce that effect. Drugs that can cause dryness include:
You can also use artificial tears to help with dry eyes and saliva stimulants and mouth lubricants for dry mouth.
Oral hygiene becomes very important. Natural saliva contains substances that rid the mouth of the bacteria that cause cavities and mouth infections (Read about "Microorganisms"), so good oral hygiene (Read about oral hygiene in "Oral Health") is extremely important when you have dry mouth. Here's what you can do to prevent cavities and infections, according to NIAMS:
When it comes to your eyes there are many things you can do as well.
The cause or causes of Sjögren's syndrome remain under investigation. NIAMS says that it may be a combination of genetics and environmental triggers.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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