How Does Sjogren’s Syndrome Affect Me?

How Does Sjogren’s Syndrome Affect Me?

Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks glands in the eyes and mouth that produce tears and saliva. This often results in chronic dry eyes and dry mouth, among other symptoms.

If you have Sjogren’s syndrome, board-certified rheumatologists Nathaniel Neal, MD, and Rebekah Neal-Kraal, MD, of Valerius Medical Group & Research Center in Los Alamitos, California, can give you the care you need. They routinely diagnose and help patients manage this and other rheumatic conditions.

In this blog, they explain what Sjogren’s syndrome is and how it can be treated.

What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system functions incorrectly and fights against healthy tissue. Normally, the immune system defends against disease-causing organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.

With Sjogren’s syndrome, disease-fighting cells target the glands that generate tears and saliva. Other glands, including those in the stomach, pancreas, and intestines, can be affected by the condition also, and it can also cause dryness in other sites that require moisture, such as the nose, throat, airways, and skin.

Sjogren's syndrome can also cause inflammation in the joints, muscles, skin, and other bodily tissues. So it’s common to experience musculoskeletal pain. Furthermore, sjogren's can also affect the body’s connective tissues.

Primary vs. secondary Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren's syndrome is divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary Sjogren's syndrome occurs on its own, while secondary Sjogren's syndrome develops in conjunction with another illness. 

Individuals with primary disease are more likely than people with secondary disease to have certain antibodies circulating in their blood. SS-A and SS-B are the names of these antibodies. Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) are more common in those with primary Sjogren's syndrome. 

Secondary Sjogren's syndrome occurs when a person has experienced an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, before developing Sjogren's. Because they have two diseases, people with this type often have more health challenges.

Symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome

Most people with Sjorgen’s syndrome have to manage dry eye symptoms. Red, itchy, burning eyes are common. Your eyes may also be sensitive to light, and your vision may become blurry.

Dry mouth symptoms may feel like you have cotton in your mouth. Swallowing, speaking, and tasting might prove challenging when having a flare-up. It's also possible that your sense of smell may change, and you may develop a dry cough. 

Also, because you lack the preventive properties of saliva, dry mouth raises your risk of getting mouth infections. Your provider will keep a close eye out for signs of an infection. Finally, Sjogren's syndrome can cause fatigue.

What causes Sjogren’s syndrome?

A mix of hereditary and environmental causes are thought to cause Sjogren’s syndrome. Scientists believe several genes are a factor, but more study is needed, because different genes appear to play different roles in different people. 

However, simply carrying one of these genes doesn’t mean you’ll develop Sjogren’s syndrome. 

Scientists believe a viral or bacterial infection may trigger Sjogren’s Syndrome. For example, a person who possesses a Sjogren's-associated gene could get a viral infection. Then, as the immune system activates to fight the virus, the gene could redirect the attack by sending fighting cells to the glands of the eyes and mouth to attack healthy cells.

This could result in inflammation that damages the glands and prevents them from functioning normally. Furthermore, after an attack, fighter cells are supposed to die. However, with Sjogren's syndrome, they keep attacking, causing further harm.

Treating Sjogren’s syndrome

Treatment for Sjogren’s syndrome depends on what’s being affected. If you have dry eyes, your provider may recommend taking over-the-counter eye drops or moisturizing ointment. If you have dry mouth, your provider may recommend increasing water consumption.

Depending on your case, your provider may also recommend prescription medications that address eye inflammation, saliva production, arthritis symptoms, or those that aim to suppress the immune system.

If your case is severe, your provider may recommend tear duct surgery. However, no matter your case, your provider will work with you every step of the way to help you get better.

Sjogren’s syndrome requires treatment by a health care provider with special training in rheumatic diseases. To get the highest quality of care available, call 562-294-6533 to book an appointment with Valerius Medical Group & Research Center today.

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