Sjögren’s Syndrome

A chronic autoimmune condition that affects the body’s moisture-producing glands, including the tear glands and salivary glands. Sjögren’s syndrome is associated with other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It affects 40 million Americans, 90 percent of whom are women.

The symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome include dry, itchy eyes; blurry vision; sensitivity to light; dry mouth; a hoarse voice; persistent dry cough; tooth decay; oral thrush and vaginal dryness. It can be difficult to diagnose because of the widely varying symptoms, so doctors may use a variety of tests, including tests of tear and saliva flow, blood tests for certain antibodies, and a biopsy of the saliva-producing glands.

Because Sjögren’s syndrome attacks so many different body systems, people with the condition may need to see several specialists, including an ophthalmologist, an oral disease specialist or dentist, and a rheumatologist. Treatment is geared toward alleviating symptoms. For dry eyes, over-the-counter artificial tears and prescription ophthalmic cyclosporine emulsions, which reduce inflammation, may help. Dry mouth may be treated with artificial saliva in the form of sprays, swabs, and liquids, as well as medications such as pilocarpine and cevimeline that stimulate the flow of saliva. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help relieve any associated joint pain, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as hydroxychloroquine or methotrexate may be used to treat associated joint pain that is accompanied by fatigue and rashes.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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