Sjogren’s syndrome is an auto-immune disease caused by an attack of the immune system on the body’s glands that produce tears and saliva.
Causes and risk factors
The cause of the disease is not known. The presence of certain genes in an individual increases the risk of the disease. It is sometimes linked to other auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and is mostly seen in people above 40 years of age with women being more prone to it.
The main symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome is dryness of the eyes and mouth. Other symptoms can include joint swelling and pain, vaginal dryness, persistent dry cough and dry skin. It may also spread to other parts of the body such as blood vessels, nerves, lungs, kidneys and digestive system.
Dry eyes and mouth can occur due to many other diseases. Thus, diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome requires various tests. These include tests to confirm the decrease in the secretion of tears (Schirmer test) and saliva (spit test) and blood tests to detect antibodies such as anti-nuclear antibodies, rheumatoid factor, anti-SSA and anti-SSB antibodies. Biopsy of the salivary gland in the inner lip is also obtained.
Dryness of the eyes may cause light sensitivity, blurred vision and in severe cases may lead to corneal ulcers. Similarly, severe dryness of the mouth can cause dental cavities and yeast infections in the mouth. Other rare complications may include effects on lungs, kidneys or liver function, numbness in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy) and cancer of the lymph glands.
Sjogren’s syndrome cannot be cured. Treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms. Dry eyes are treated by artificial tears and medication. In severe cases surgery may be advised to block or plug the tear ducts. Medications are also given for dry mouth to stimulate saliva production. Anti-fungal medication may be prescribed in case of yeast infection in the mouth. Immuno-suppressant and an anti-malarial drug are given to control wider range of symptoms.
Most patient’s with Sjogren’s syndrome live healthy lives. They should go for regular medical care and follow–up to prevent any complications.