Every year, 4 out of 100,000 people are diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome. This represents 0.2% of the U.S. population. Sjogren’s Syndrome occurs 20 times more often in women than in men.
This doesn’t sound like a lot of people until it is you or someone you love.
Experts now offer many treatment options to manage complications. If you worry about symptoms that may mean you have an autoimmune disorder like this one, don’t wait. Discuss concerns with your doctor so that you can begin Sjogren’s syndrome treatment early.
What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Many people have never heard of Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) Syndrome.
This syndrome results from problems with an individual’s Immune system. The immune system begins to attack parts of the body. When this occurs, it is called an autoimmune disorder.
Sjogren’s Syndrome describes a severely debilitating autoimmune disorder affecting many parts of the body. The syndrome often begins with impairment of the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth. Thus, dry eyes and mouth are considered the hallmark signs of this syndrome.
Common areas also affected include the skin, joints, kidneys, liver, lungs, and nerves. Other immune system disorders that often accompany this syndrome include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
This condition occurs most often in women. The usual age of onset is age 40 or over although anyone can develop Sjogren’s Syndrome at any age.
Signs and Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome
What physical changes should you tell your doctor about?
Signs and symptoms that may cause concern for Sjogren’s Syndrome include:
- Dry eyes or irritation such as burning, itching, or feeling like grit in your eye
- Dry mouth that feels like cotton and interferes with swallowing and speaking
- Joint pain, swelling, or stiffness
- Swelling behind your jaw and in front of ears may mean inflamed salivary glands
- Dry skin or rashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Ongoing dry cough
- Excessive fatigue
If you experience these symptoms, talk with your doctor. Improved symptom management occurs when treatments begins early.
Diagnostic Criteria for Sjogren’s Syndrome
The diagnostic process for Sjogren’s Syndrome often requires appointments with several different specialists.
- A rheumatologist will check for autoimmune processes
- An ophthalmologist will see if you have the right amount of tear film
- A dentist or oral medicine physician will determine if you are making enough saliva or have inflamed salivary glands.
There is no single test that can diagnose Sjogren’s Syndrome. By definition, a syndrome describes a group of symptoms consistently found together. Thus, diagnosis requires several tests such as:
- Blood and urine tests
- Schirmer’s test which determines if your eye is producing enough tears
- Ocular surface staining to check the tear film and look for any damage on the surface of the eye
- Salivary gland function scans
- Labial gland, or lip, biopsy
- Sialometry which measures the flow of saliva
- Ultrasound of the major salivary glands
If you are experiencing nerve problems, your doctor may order:
- Nerve conduction studies to measure the health of the nerves
- Electromyography to check the health of your muscles
- Cutaneous nerve/skin biopsy looks for damage to the nerve fibers
- Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, checks the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord for signs of neurologic disorders
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of the brain and spinal cord
After reviewing your physical exam and test results, the physician will decide if you have Sjogren’s Syndrome. Once this diagnosis is made, the physician then determines if you have primary or secondary Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Primary means you meet 3 or 4 of the diagnostic conditions. Secondary Sjogren’s Syndrome includes 2 of the diagnostic conditions in someone already diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.
Sjogren’s Syndrome Treatment
The treatment for Sjogren’s Syndrome focuses on relieving the symptoms.
Dry Mouth. Prescription medications help stimulate the flow of saliva. Over-the-counter saliva substitutes and mouth-coating gels are also available. They come in liquids, sprays, and pretreated swabs.
Dry eyes. Prescription eye drops or pellets help keep the eyes moist. Slow-release tear pellets may help decrease the need for artificial tears.
Dry mouth, throat, and upper part of your airway. Medications come as pills, liquids, or lozenges. Using an expectorant that contains guaifenesin can help alleviate dryness in the throat and respiratory tract.
Joint pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to decrease joint pain, muscle aches, and stiffness. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can decrease rashes, fatigue, and joint pain.
Thrush. Yeast infection in the mouth, or thrush, is treated with antifungal tablets or lozenges.
Vaginal Dryness. Water-based lubricants can relieve vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. Prescription estrogen creams may also be used in women with decreased estrogen levels.
Complications Associated with Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s Syndrome can result in several complications.
Dental cavities often occur because the saliva is decreased. Saliva helps keep bacteria from damaging the teeth and causing cavities.
Yeast Infections in the mouth can cause decreased saliva that bathes the mouth.
Vision problems including blurry vision, light sensitivity, and corneal damage result from decreased lacrimal gland activity. The lacrimal gland produces fluid that cleanses, lubricates and moistens the surface of the eye.
Some of the less common problems include:
Inflammation of the liver resulting in hepatitis or cirrhosis in the liver.
Inflammation of the lungs causing pneumonia, bronchitis, or other problems with the lungs.
Inflammation of the kidneys leading to problems with how the kidneys function.
Lymphoma, or lymph node cancer, occurs in a small percentage of individuals with Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Peripheral Neuropathy, resulting from nerve damage, can cause numbness, tingling, and burning in your feet, hands, and other body parts.
The prognosis for Individuals with Sjogren’s Syndrome
How effective is treatment for Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Symptoms and the intensity of complications vary from one person to the next. Most individuals stay healthy and can participate in normal daily activities. Some patients, however, develop serious conditions like lymphoma.
Following your physician’s treatment plan and attending follow-up visits can greatly decrease the impact of this syndrome on your life.
Is it Time for You to Get Treatment?
Our center offers treatment for many rheumatic problems and musculoskeletal diseases. This includes diagnostic tests such as high-frequency MRI, digital X-ray, ultrasound, and DEXA scans. The center provides comprehensive treatments and therapies such as infusions, vein procedures, osteoporosis therapy, and ultrasound-guided injections to ease the treatment process.
If you feel like you can’t participate in normal daily life, get help. Contact us today for musculoskeletal disease, rheumatic disorders, or Sjogren’s Syndrome treatment. Get back into life.