Sjogren’s Syndrome: More Than Just a Dry Mouth

If you wouldn’t DARE eat a cracker without a big glass of water near by, you might have Sjogren’s Syndrome…

Sjogren’s Syndrome is a strange name for a mysterious, little known, autoimmune illness. During the early 1900s it was first called “keratoconjunctivitis sicca” by Swedish opthamologist Henrik Sjogren. “Sicca” is the term used to describe dryness of the eyes (and mouth).

Sjogren’s affects the “exocrine”, or moisture producing, glands. Some people think it’s just a “dry mouth” or “dry eyes”, but it can affect the whole body in various ways. Sometimes symptoms are mild, and nothing more than an annoyance. Other times, symptoms are major, severely reduce the quality of life, and can lead to some pretty awful complications if not noticed and treated.

Women seem to get Sjogren’s more often than men; in fact, 90% of Sjogren’s patients are female, though there are a number of men who suffer from it too. It can take YEARS to receive a diagnosis of Sjogren’s, and sometimes people go to numerous doctors before the proper diagnosis is finally made.

Blood tests, eye tests, and lip biopsies can help make a diagnosis of Sjogren’s. Sometimes antibodies show up immediately in blood tests for Sjogren’s. At other times, a person might still have Sjogren’s, but the antibodies won’t show up in blood tests until the disease has progressed further. In a few people, the antibodies don’t show in blood tests at all.

In a lip biopsy, the inner lip is numbed and a sampling is taken from the saliva glands. The Shirmer test measures tear production in the eyes.

Though there is no cure for Sjogren’s, proper treatment can relieve symptoms for many patients. There are special toothpastes, mouthwashes, and lozenges to alleviate dry mouth. There are several different eye drops to moisten dry eyes. Some patients eventually have their tear ducts plugged to keep remaining moisture in.

Special care must be taken to practice extremely thorough dental hygiene because lack of saliva makes the mouth prone to disease. Regular dental checkups are a necessity.

When Sjogren’s Syndrome is suspected, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, a specialist who diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal disorders.

In some cases, usually rarely, Sjogren’s can affect the central nervous system in some patients, making treatment a much bigger challenge. However, most patients find that they can continue to lead normal lives, though sometimes making a few adjustments for symptoms.

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