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Do You Feel Like You’re Drying Up? It Could Be Sjogren's Syndrome

The immune system is a complex set of defenses comprised of a multitude of physiological processes. Under normal circumstances, your immune system protects you against harmful organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. However, sometimes the immune system doesn’t work the way it should. In as many as 4 million patients with Sjogren’s syndrome, the immune system attacks the body’s own cells and tissues.

In this blog, Nathaniel Neal, MD, and Rebekah Neal-Kraal, MD, of Valerius Medical Group & Research Center in Los Alamitos, California, describe what Sjogren’s syndrome is and when you should see a doctor.

What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjogren’s syndrome is a long-lasting disorder that prevents some of the moisture-producing glands in the body from working properly. This happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages these glands. The salivary and tear-producing glands are most often affected.

Sjogren’s syndrome is divided into two types: primary and secondary. When Sjogren’s syndrome develops as a result of another condition, it’s classified as secondary. This is because it occurs secondary to another illness. When Sjogren’s syndrome develops without an association with another illness, it’s categorized as primary.

Having another autoimmune condition raises the risk of developing Sjogren’s syndrome. Conditions associated with Sjogren’s syndrome are:

If you have any of these conditions or have another autoimmune condition and notice symptoms of dry eyes or dry mouth, talk to your doctor about screening for Sjogren’s syndrome.

Who is at risk for developing Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjogren’s syndrome primarily affects middle-aged adults, and more than 90% of those diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome are women. It isn’t clear why women develop Sjogren’s syndrome at a much higher rate than men. Scientists are exploring the role of estrogen or lack thereof in the development of Sjogren’s syndrome. 

Women who develop Sjogren’s syndrome are often in their 50s and 60s, a time when estrogen levels decline significantly. The strongest available evidence suggests that a set of factors, including estrogen issues, environmental triggers, genetic factors, and an abnormal immune response may combine to produce Sjogren’s syndrome.

My eyes are dry, so do I have Sjogren’s syndrome?

Most cases of dry eyes are not due to Sjogren’s syndrome. A wide variety of things can cause dry eyes. Getting a comprehensive evaluation by a physician who specializes in inflammatory and immune system disorders is the best way to get to the bottom of things. Here at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center, we can diagnose and treat inflammatory and immune system disorders using the latest research and technology.

When should I see a doctor?

Medications, such as antihistamines and certain types of antidepressants, can cause your eyes and mouth to feel dry. However, if you have some of the following warning signs, it's time to schedule a visit for an evaluation:

Other symptoms associated with Sjogren’s syndrome are fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, memory problems, and problems concentrating. Some patients with Sjogren’s syndrome develop skin rashes. Sjogren’s syndrome rarely impacts other parts of the body, but it can affect the gastrointestinal system, causing symptoms, such as bloating and abdominal pain.

To see if you have Sjogren’s syndrome or to get treatment for it, book an appointment online or over the phone with Valerius Medical Group & Research Center today.

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