What You Need to Know About Sjogren’s Syndrome

November 12, 2012

What You Need to Know About Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s (pronounced SHOW grins) syndrome is a separate disease of the immune system in and of itself but often appears at the same time as another illness of the immune system such as arthritis, thyroid diseases and lupus. People with eye infections can also develop this syndrome.

The exact cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is unknown, but people who are most prone to it are women over 40 who have suffered a rheumatic disease. This syndrome may be caused by genetic factors and cannot be prevented.

Common and Uncommon Symptoms

The most common symptoms are extremely dry eyes and a dry mouth. The eyes feel constantly sore. Blinking can be painful, as if there are always specs of dirt or an eyelash in the eye. The mouth may feel hot and full of cotton. This dry feeling is caused by a problem of the salivary glands which also help produces tears. The salivary glands are located under the skin in front of the ears and behind the jawline.

Other less common symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include:

  • Feeling tired all of the time

  • Pain or stiffness in the joints such as the ankles or wrists

  • Women may experience an abnormally dry vagina

  • Chronic cough that does not bring up any mucus

  • Abnormally dry skin

  • Sudden skin rashes which may or may not itch

  • Swollen salivary glands

Complications

Dry eyes and a dry mouth may not sound like much, but if left untreated, Sjogren’s syndrome can cause severe health problems, such as:

  • Internal organ damage, especially to the liver, kidneys and lungs

  • Cancer of the lymph nodes

  • Heart problems in the babies of women with Sjogren’s syndrome

  • Increase in cavities because the mouth lacks the saliva to help protect the teeth

  • Vision problems, including blurred vision and double vision

  • Corneal ulcers in the eyes from the constant irritation

  • Chronic yeast infections in women.

Diagnosis

A patient may need several tests in order to positively diagnose Sjogren’s syndrome, sine the symptoms can be caused by other problems such as severe allergies. Common tests administered include blood tests to check for antibodies and hemoglobin levels, a urinalysis to check kidney function and a spit test. Patients with a chronic cough may need a chest X-ray to check for lung damage.

Another test is a Shirmer eye test to monitor tear production, which a general practitioner may not be able to do but an ophthalmologist can. A patient may need an X-ray of the salivary glands or a biopsy of the salivary gland located in the lower lip. Patients with skin rashes may need skin scraping tests to rule out other causes than Sjogren’s syndrome.

Treatment and Prognosis

The good news about Sjogren’s syndrome is that most patients can have their symptoms managed with prescription eye-drops and using artificial saliva to help relieve dry mouth. Chewing gum sometimes helps to increase saliva production, but not always. Women with yeast infections can get them cleared up with anti-fungal medications and creams.

Patients may need prescription medications to help manage symptoms. These include hydrodroxychloroquine (a malaria medication), drugs that help increase saliva and anti-inflammatory medications for those with joint pains.

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