Sjogren’s Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease which is characterized by the abnormal production of extra antibodies in the blood that are directed against various tissues of the body. The dryness results from the reduced secretion of various kinds of glands, following invasion and damage by white cells that are part of the immune system. Although you can develop Sjogren’s syndrome at any age, most people are older than 40 at diagnosis. Sjogren’s syndrome affects 1-4 million people in the United States. The condition is nine times as likely to occur in women as in men. Sjogren’s syndrome is also associated with rheumatic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Sjögren’s syndrome exists in both a primary and secondary form. In the absence of other autoimmune disorders, it is classified as primary Sjögren’s syndrome.

Causes

People with this disease have abnormal proteins in their blood suggesting that their immune system, which normally functions to protect the body against cancers and invading infections, is reacting against their own tissue. Sjogren’s syndrome sometimes runs in families, which may also point to a genetic connection. Researchers are also looking at the possibility that hormonal factors are involved because women are more likely to get this disease. It may also be caused by a virus, where the immune system malfunctions and is unable to stop fighting even after the virus is gone.

Symptoms

Sjogren’s syndrome affects everyone differently. You may not have every symptom listed here, and you may have only minor problems with those you do have. The symptoms may seem worse at some times than at others.

Other symptoms associated with Sjögren’s include the following:

* Nasal dryness, nosebleeds, congestion, and impaired taste and smell, as well as more serious conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, caused by damage to mucous glands in the nose
* Dryness in the eustachian tubes, which can lead to a clogged feeling in the ear and impaired hearing
* Itchy, dry skin
* Vaginal dryness
* Nutritional malabsorption, caused by affected mucous lining of the stomach
* Pancreatitis

Treatment

The main goal of treatment is to relieve discomfort and lessen the effects of the dryness. Since Sjogren’s syndrome affects everyone differently, your treatment plan will be based on your specific needs.

Moisture replacement therapies may ease the symptoms of dryness. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to treat musculoskeletal symptoms. For individuals with severe complications, corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed.

Common treatment may include:

* artificial tears to help with dry eyes
* saliva stimulants and mouth lubricants for dry mouth
* anti-inflammatory medication for joint or muscle pain
* corticosteroids or immuno-suppressive drugs for lung, kidney, blood vessel or nervous system problems.