Sjögren’s Syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease; which means the immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. In Sjögren’s, the white blood cells attack the mucous membranes and moisture producing glands (the exocrine system). The eyes and mouth are usually affected first causing decreased production of tears and saliva. The dryness causes eyes to burn, itch or feel as if they have sand in them. Blurred vision is common as is sensitivity to bright light. A dry mouth may feel chalky. Because of the dryness, it can be difficult to swallow, speak or taste. The dryness can also lead to cavities, mouth infections, a sore or cracked tongue, dry or burning throat, and dry or peeling lips. Sjogren’s syndrome can also cause one or more of the following:
- Joint pain, swelling and stiffness
- Swollen salivary glands — particularly the set located behind the jaw and in front of the ears
- Skin rashes or dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Persistent dry cough
- Prolonged fatigue
Although rare, other parts of the body, such as joints, the thyroid, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and nerves can be affected. Sjögren’s is a common autoimmune disorder yet it takes an average of 4.7 years to receive a diagnosis according to the Sjögren’s foundation. Sjögren’s can occur at any age, but most people are older than 40 when diagnosed and 9 out of 10 patients are women. There are two classifications of Sjögren’s. “Primary” Sjögren’s syndrome occurs in people with no other rheumatologic disease. “Secondary” Sjögren’s occurs in people who have another rheumatologic disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Certain genes put people at higher risk for the disorder, but it is believed that a triggering illness such as thyroiditis or an infection with a particular virus or strain of bacteria is necessary. Since there is no cure yet for Sjögren’s treatment focuses on relieving symptoms. Some individuals may have severe symptoms and others may have mild symptoms that are easier to relieve. Remissions and exacerbations are to be expected. The Sjögren’s Syndrome foundation has a tremendous amount of information for symptom management and resources. Their web address is www.sjogrens.org. There is also a video on their website that anyone diagnosed with Sjögren’s should watch. Contact Colleen at A Healthier Me, who is also a Sjögren’s Ambassador for more information. Colleen can be reached at (772) 231-5555.