Diagnosing and Treating Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is a disease typically characterized by dry eyes, nose, and mouth, although it can affect other parts of the body as well. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that it occurs when the immune system stops functioning correctly, and the lymphocytes start to attack glands and tissues that produce moisture for the body. Sjogren’s syndrome is considered to be a form of arthritis, and occurs most commonly in women of menopausal age. Although there is no cure for it, it is important to identify because there are ways that you can adapt your life to live more comfortably with it. Also, because it is relatively rare, it can go undiagnosed for some time, and can have destructive consequences on the body.

The exact causes of Sjogren’s syndrome are unknown. A genetic link had been suggested, and my family has three members that are being treated for the illness. However, it has also been suggested that the disease is he result of a virus, stress, or hormonal changes. There are two forms of the disease: Primary Sjogren’s occurs when the dryness of the eyes and mouth are the main symptoms. Secondary Sjogren’s, which is what the three women in my family have been diagnosed with, occurs when the dry eyes and mouth accompany a connective tissue disorder (all three women had severe cases of Lupus.)

Although the symptoms may make it sound like an irritation at worst, Sjogren’s can have quite serious effects on those that have it. Not to mention the inflammatory pain and extreme dryness in the eyes and mouth, Sjogren’s can cause severe damage to saliva glands and tear glands. It can also affect other parts of the body, such as joints (characteristic in other types of arthritis,) kidneys, pancreas, stomach, and the thyroid glands. Sjogren’s can really do damage to these other body parts, and in rare instances, can make a person more susceptible to cancer of the lymph tissue.

Although there is no cure for Sjogren’s, treating it is very important for your health and comfort. Symptoms that could help you identify Sjogren’s would be extremely dry eyes and mouth (eyes are described as “having sand in them,” and “extreme cottonmouth, with the inability to produce saliva.”) Your salivary glands may be swollen, which is one of the tests you will likely undergo for certain diagnosis. You may have inflammation of joints, particularly in your fingers, ankles, wrists, and feet (larger joints will be less affected.) Skin can often be affected, and you may begin to notice serious dryness. Women may have vaginal dryness.

Joint inflammation for some individuals can be serious and very painful. Under the circumstances, the patient will need to take anti-inflammatory drugs, and discuss with their doctor the best way to get more of the hormone cortisone (which is the body’s natural anti-inflammatory.) Special eye drops can help reduce eye dryness, and there are things you can do for dry mouth. Drink extra water, cut back on salt, alcohol, and caffeine (which all dehydrate the body,) and chew gum or suck on sugarless candy to stimulate activity in the saliva glands. Teeth should receive extra attention, because the lack of saliva can make them particularly vulnerable to damage. Special lotions can help reduce skin dryness. Doctors can perform more extreme treatments for severe cases, which can greatly reduce the pain of the sufferer- consulting a doctor, (especially a rhumatologist,) is very important with this disease. Pregnant women that suspect they may have Sjogrens should definitely consult their doctor, as a correlation has been noted between the disease in mothers and heart problems in newborns.

Sjogren’s Syndrome is something that should be carefully monitored. Although an individual may be able to make certain adjustments in their life and live perfectly well, others definitely have more problems. Careful medical attention will help you if you have this illness, and the sooner you start to track it, the more damage you may be able to avert.

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