What is Sjögren's Syndrome?
Sjögren's Syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the body's moisture-producing glands, leading to a range of symptoms that primarily impact the eyes and mouth. Named after the Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren, who first described the condition in 1933, this syndrome often presents challenges in diagnosis and management due to its varied and sometimes subtle symptoms (source: American College of Rheumatology).
The Basics of Sjögren's Syndrome
Sjögren's Syndrome is classified as a systemic autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues and organs. In this condition, the immune system primarily targets the moisture-producing glands, such as the salivary and tear glands, although other parts of the body can also be affected.
The exact cause of Sjögren's Syndrome remains unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. A person's genetic predisposition and exposure to certain environmental triggers, like viral infections, may play a role in initiating the autoimmune response.
Immune System and Gland Dysfunction
In individuals with Sjögren's Syndrome, the immune system attacks and damages the moisture-producing glands. This attack reduces the production of saliva and tears, resulting in symptoms of dry mouth (xerostomia) and dry eyes (keratoconjunctivitis sicca). Additionally, other parts of the body, such as joints, skin, kidneys, and the nervous system, may also be affected in some cases.
Who is Affected by Sjögren's Syndrome
ACcording to the American College of Rheumatology, Sjögren's Syndrome is more common in women, with approximately 90% of individuals diagnosed being female. The age of onset can vary, but it often occurs between the ages of 40 and 60. However, it's essential to note that Sjögren's Syndrome can affect people of all ages, including children.
Common Symptoms of Sjögren's Syndrome
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia):
A persistent sensation of dryness and difficulty swallowing due to reduced saliva production.
Dry Eyes (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca):
Irritation, itching, and a gritty feeling in the eyes caused by inadequate tear production.
Chronic and debilitating fatigue that is not relieved by rest, often affecting daily activities.
Joint Pain and Swelling:
Pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, similar to symptoms of arthritis.
Muscle Aches and Weakness:
Generalized muscle discomfort, aches, and weakness, impacting physical activities.
Dry Skin and Skin Rashes:
Dry, irritated skin, and occasionally skin rashes due to decreased moisture.
Diagnosis and Management
Diagnosing Sjögren's Syndrome can be challenging, often requiring a combination of medical history, physical examination, blood tests, and specialized tests like lip or salivary gland biopsies. Currently, there is no cure for Sjögren's Syndrome, so the focus of management is on symptom relief and preventing complications.
Treatment may include:
Symptomatic Relief: Artificial tears, saliva substitutes, and moisturizing agents.
Immunosuppressive Medications: To manage systemic symptoms and control the autoimmune response.
Pain Management: For joint and muscle pain relief.
Regular Monitoring: To assess disease progression and manage complications.
Sjögren's Syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the body's moisture-producing glands, leading to symptoms like dry mouth and eyes, fatigue, joint pain, and more. Ongoing research and advancements in treatment continue to provide hope for improved management and quality of life for those living with Sjögren's Syndrome.
Understanding the basics of this syndrome, its symptoms, and available management options is crucial for individuals affected by the condition and healthcare professionals involved in their care and Paducah Rheumatology is here to help.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Sjögren's Syndrome, send our office your physician’s referral and then call us at 270-408-6100 to schedule an appointment.
We look forward to seeing you!