Do you suffer from dry eyes, dry throat, and difficulty in swallowing? These are some of the common symptoms of Sjögren’s, an auto-immune disorder that attacks the moisture-generating glands of the body.
While this is not a life-threatening disease, Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms can cause grave discomfort and stress in your day-to-day life. Also, they come with a possible risk of certain complications if you don’t monitor and manage them correctly.
So, how to diagnose, treat, and manage the symptoms of this disorder? Here is an ultimate guide on Sjögren’s or Sicca Syndrome to address all your doubts about this condition.
What Exactly Is Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s Syndrome is a chronic and inflammatory auto-immune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its own moisture-producing glands. Therefore, this disorder causes dryness in various organs, particularly in the eyes and throat. Hence, it can cause irritation and difficulty in swallowing. It is not life-threatening but may cause lymphoma in rare cases.
The exact Sjögren’s Syndrome cause is not known but it is more prevalent in women above the age of 40. Being an auto-immune disorder, it is not curable, but symptoms can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. Also, these management strategies focus on preventing further complications that can be caused by the disorder.
Some Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Sjögren’s is an auto-immune disorder that attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands.
- It affects 0.5 to 5% of the American population and is more prevalent in women than men.
- It causes dryness in the eyes and throat and may be accompanied by tooth decay and a dry cough.
- Due to various symptoms affecting different parts of the body, you may initially be visiting different doctors for each symptom. A final diagnosis can be made based on eye testing, blood tests, and biopsy.
- Moisture-generating products like eyedrops and chewing gum can offer relief from the dryness that is caused by Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms.
The Types Of Sjögren’s Syndrome
1. Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome
In this case, the syndrome develops without any accompanying autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or psoriatic arthritis. The severity of symptoms is usually higher in the case of primary Sjögren’s. The symptoms develop on their own in this case, without being caused by another underlying disease.
2. Secondary Sjögren’s Syndrome
In this case, Sjögren’s develops along with other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or psoriatic arthritis. The severity of Sjögren’s symptoms is usually lesser in this form of the disorder, although the accompanying diseases may further cause other symptoms.
Who Is Most Likely to Get Sjögren’s Syndrome?
The exact Sjögren’s Syndrome cause is not known and this auto-immune disorder may affect anyone. However, it is most prevalent in women between the ages of 40 and 60, making their risk of developing this disorder higher than others. Additionally, those suffering from other auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus may be at a greater risk of developing this syndrome. Hence, those with compromised immunity or comorbidities must be extra cautious about symptoms like dry eyes or a dry cough.
Studies also indicate that certain pathogens like Epstein–Barr virus may trigger this disorder. The presence of such pathogens can be detected with the help of a biopsy.
What Are the Causes Of Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s or Sicca Syndrome is an auto-immune disorder. This means that the body’s immune system starts attacking its own cells, leading to the symptoms of this disorder. In this case, the immune system causes the inflammation of the glands that produce moisture in the body. The common targets in this disorder are the lacrimal glands in the eyelids and the salivary glands in the mouth. As a result of the inflammation of these glands, the patient suffers from dryness and discomfort in these regions.
The exact Sjögren’s Syndrome cause has not been identified yet. However, since it is way more prevalent in women than in men, estrogen may be a contributing factor to the symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome
1. Dry Eyes
Eye issues are the most common Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms. You may feel dryness or irritation in your eyes as if there is sand in them. You may also develop the blurry vision and swollen eyelids. Some people also experience uneasiness in their eyes under bright lights. Sticky mucus in the eyes is yet another common symptom of the syndrome.
2. Mouth And Throat Problems
Mouth and throat problems are the common symptoms that need Sjögren’s Syndrome treatment. Due to the inflammation of the salivary glands, your mouth may feel dry, or you may develop mouth ulcers. These conditions can make it difficult to swallow food and your food may also taste different. Additionally, you may develop a dry cough, and your voice may become hoarse. Other symptoms include tooth decay, fungal infection in the mouth, a red tongue, and cracked skin around the mouth.
3. Aches And Pains
Apart from the salivary glands and the eyes, Sicca Syndrome may also impact other organs and joints in the body. Therefore, it can be accompanied by joint pain and inflammation. Additionally, you may experience tenderness in your muscles, headaches, and migraines.
Perpetual tiredness or fatigue is yet another one of Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms. You may feel low both mentally and physically when suffering from this disorder. There may be a feeling of depression or brain fog that clouds your mind. You may find it difficult to concentrate and may also feel low on physical energy due to bodily discomfort.
5. Other Symptoms
Apart from these common symptoms of Sicca Syndrome, you may also experience irritable bowel and bladder. Additionally, women may also have to deal with vaginal dryness, which causes pain during sex and worsens the symptoms of menopause. Furthermore, your skin may feel itchy and irritated, and your air passages may develop sensitivity.
The Best Treatments for Sjögren’s Syndrome
According to studies, the primary treatment strategies for Sjogren’s are focused on managing the symptoms and preventing further complications associated with the disorder. The most popular treatments include the following –
1. Treatments For Eyes
Dry eyes are the most common symptom of Sjögren’s, and your doctor may prescribe lubricating eye drops to tackle the same. For very dry eyes, you may additionally need sprays, gels, or ointments for optimal moisture. Furthermore, if sticky mucus is a concern, then you can use mucolytic eye drops as a Sjögren’s Syndrome treatment. Paraffin-based treatments can also be helpful to prevent crusty eyes. Lastly, in severe cases, your eye doctor may recommend punctual occlusion. In this treatment, plugs are placed to block the ducts in the eyes that drain the tears and moisture.
2. Treatment For Mouth
Different treatment strategies are used to address the Sjögren’s Syndrome symptoms occurring in the mouth. To tackle dryness, saliva-generating medicines or sprays may be prescribed. Also, anti-fungal treatments may be used to treat fungal infections. Tooth decay is another common concern with this disorder, so you may need to switch to fluoride-based toothpaste and visit a dentist frequently to keep tooth problems in check. In the case of severe inflammation in the mouth, a steroid injection may be used.
Depending on your symptoms, different medicines may be a part of Sjögren’s Syndrome treatment. Apart from saliva-generating tablets like Pilocarpine, you may also be prescribed painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines to tackle body aches and pains. You may also be given steroids in the case of severe inflammation. Additionally, anti-rheumatic medicines are used to suppress the activity of the immune system, to minimize the symptoms of this auto-immune disorder.
4. Other Treatments
Apart from the standard treatment pathways for Sicca Syndrome, you may also need to address the symptoms of menopause that often coexist with the disorder. For this, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to restore healthy estrogen levels in your body. This can alleviate some symptoms like tiredness, depression, and brain fog caused by hormonal deficiencies.
What Are the Diagnostic Tests for Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Diagnosis of Sjögren’s Syndrome is not completely straightforward because it affects multiple systems across the body and the symptoms may overlap with other health conditions. However, the following tests can help your doctor diagnose this disorder.
- Blood tests can detect the presence of certain antibodies that are present in around 70% of the cases of this syndrome.
- Eye examinations and tests with Rose Bengal, Lissamine green, and blotting paper are used to determine tear and moisture levels in the eyes.
- Salivary flow rate is measured by weighing the amount of saliva generated in 5 minutes in a cup.
- Saliva flow is also measured by injecting a dye or radioactive isotope and tracing it. These tests are called Sialogram and Salivary scintigraphy respectively.
- A chest x-ray or CT scan is used to determine any inflammation in the lungs.
- A skin biopsy or lip biopsy is carried out to identify small fiber neuropathy and lymphocytic inflammation respectively.
- Urine tests are conducted to assess for kidney damage.
Additionally, if you have been suffering from dry eyes and dry mouth for over 3 months and have been needing lubricating eye drops during this period, your chances of having this disorder are high. Your doctor will conduct the above tests to confirm the same.
Sjögren’s Syndrome Diet Tips
A Sjögren’s Syndrome diet should be focused on alleviating the symptoms of this disorder. Here are some Sjögren’s Syndrome diet tips that may prove helpful:
- Avoid hot and spicy foods that can aggravate your mouth ulcers.
- Add sauces or gravies to your food to make it softer and easier to swallow.
- Consume anti-inflammatory ingredients like garlic and turmeric.
- Avoid inflammatory foods like desserts and drinks that are loaded with sugar.
- Consume foods with anti-inflammatory benefits like fruits, vegetables, and Omega-3 Fatty acids.
Are There Any Complications of Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Prompt Sjögren’s Syndrome treatment is recommended to prevent the severe complications of the disorder. If the symptoms of this syndrome are left untreated, you may have to face the following complications –
- A greater risk of certain types of cancer, particularly lymphoma, and multiple myeloma
- Dental cavities and yeast infections in the mouth
- Blurry vision
- Lung inflammation leads to pneumonia and bronchitis
- Autoimmune hepatitis or liver cirrhosis
- Kidney malfunction
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Interstitial cystitis in the bladder
- Giving birth to children with cardiac issues or lupus
While this disorder is usually non-fatal, it can give birth to life-threatening complications. So, you must seek prompt diagnosis and treatment if you face any of its symptoms.
Home Remedies for Sjögren’s Syndrome
Here are some tips and tricks you can try at home to alleviate the symptoms that Sjögren’s Syndrome causes –
- Keep sipping water at regular intervals and use chewing gum to generate more saliva.
- Brush your teeth and floss regularly to avoid tooth decay.
- Use moisturizing mouth washes and sprays.
- Use a humidifier in your home to keep your surroundings moist and prevent a dry mouth.
- Avoid dry and crispy food and use dressings and sauces to moisten your food items.
- Use a saline spray to keep your nasal cavity moist.
- Use warm water for your baths to prevent your skin from drying up.
FAQs About Sjögren's Syndrome
It is an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands in the body. It can be triggered by certain bacterial and viral infections.
Sjögren’s is usually not a life-threatening disease, but it causes chronic inflammation and discomfort. Furthermore, prompt Sjögren's Syndrome treatment is recommended to avoid serious complications like lung inflammation and lymphoma.
The life expectancy of Sjogren's patients is similar to that of healthy individuals. However, Sjögren's Syndrome causes a significant decline in the quality of life due to various painful symptoms.
No, Sjogren's is a chronic life-long disorder with no cure at the moment. However, Sjögren's Syndrome symptoms can be minimized with existing treatments like medications and lubricating sprays.
Sjogren’s is an auto-immune disorder that may not be known to many people and may also go undiagnosed for a long time due to its varying symptoms. However, it causes chronic inflammation, discomfort, fatigue, and even depression, making it detrimental to the patient’s quality of life. Moreover, if left untreated, it may cause some fatal complications like lymphoma, kidney malfunction, and lung disease.
Therefore, it is crucial to identify the symptoms of this disorder and get tested based on the same. While there is no cure for this syndrome, prompt diagnosis and treatment can help you manage your symptoms better and prevent future complications.
So, if you or a loved one has been suffering from dryness in the eyes, mouth, or throat, consult a doctor regarding Sjogren’s Syndrome at the earliest. With the help of these treatment techniques and home remedies, you can get relief from most of your symptoms and enjoy a healthy life.