Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease that often damages the glands that make tears and saliva, or spit. It can cause dryness, especially in the eyes and mouth.
Researchers believe that Sjögren's syndrome is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Several genes have been linked to Sjögren's syndrome, and some scientists think that an abnormal immune response to an infection—such as from a virus or bacteria—might trigger the disease.
There are two types of Sjögren's syndrome: primary and secondary. For both, the two most common symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth. Other parts of the body—including joints, blood vessels, and nerves—may be affected too.
The primary form of Sjögren's syndrome occurs by itself, without the presence of other autoimmune diseases. Secondary Sjögren's syndrome happens in combination with other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, or polymyositis.
Who has it?
You are more likely to have Sjögren's syndrome if you are over 40 years old. Women are also nine times more likely to have it than men.
How is it diagnosed?
Because the symptoms are similar to those of other diseases and can vary from person to person, getting a diagnosis may take time.
In addition to your primary care physician, a number of specialists may help diagnose and treat you. They will check for the physical signs of Sjögren's syndrome and for signs of other, related diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors may require eye and mouth tests, blood tests, and urine tests.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome. Most people with Sjögren's syndrome live healthy lives with few medical complications.
Treatment will depend on your symptoms and could include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and prescription medications. Work with your health care providers to find the best treatment plan for you.
For symptoms like dry eyes or dry mouth, doctors may recommend OTC products and medications to stimulate saliva and protect the teeth; eye drops or ointments to replace tears and reduce inflammation; or possibly steroids to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Medications to increase saliva flow and those that suppress the immune system and reduce pain are also commonly prescribed.
Good health habits, including eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, and having a consistent exercise routine can also make Sjögren's syndrome easier to manage.