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Sjögren’s syndrome commonly affects your tear glands.

Sjögren’s syndrome commonly affects your tear glands.
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Sjögren’s syndrome

3-minute read

Sjögren’s syndrome is a condition of your immune system. It commonly affects your eyes and salivary glands, but can also affect other parts of the body.

What is Sjögren’s syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, where your immune system attacks your own healthy cells.

In Sjögren’s syndrome, your immune system typically attacks your eyes and salivary glands. Other parts of the body may also be affected.

The cause of Sjögren’s syndrome is unknown. It is more common in women, people over 40 and those who have rheumatic disease, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Most people with Sjögren’s syndrome are able to live normally, without any serious complications – especially if they take care to manage their symptoms.

Sjögren’s syndrome symptoms

People with Sjögren's syndrome can have:

  • dry eyes, including a painful burning, itchy or gritty feeling
  • a dry mouth, making it difficult to swallow, speak or eat dry foods
  • swelling of the glands in the face and neck areas.

Eye and mouth dryness can also increase your risk for eye infections and dental problems.

Some people with Sjögren's syndrome also get:

A few people will have their liver and kidneys affected. A few people will also develop lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).

Sjögren’s syndrome diagnosis

Besides your symptoms, Sjögren’s syndrome is diagnosed through tests, including:

  • Schirmer’s test – to check whether your eyes are producing enough tears
  • blood tests – to check for antibodies common in Sjögren’s syndrome
  • imaging to test how your salivary glands are working
  • biopsy – a small sliver of tissue from your lip is checked for presence of inflammatory cells.

Sjögren’s syndrome treatment

There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome. Treatments to relieve symptoms can involve medications to increase the production of saliva and treat complications like arthritis.

Surgery is an option for some people, to stop the eyes draining tears.

Your doctor may also prescribe you medicines, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or medicines that suppress the immune system.

It is important to see your doctor or rheumatologist (joint specialist) regularly to make sure the condition stays well-managed.

There are also ways to manage symptoms yourself:

  • dry eyes – use artificial tears or an eye lubricant; regular check-ups with an ophthalmologist (eye specialist), wear protective eye-wear to avoid exposure to the wind or sun
  • dry mouth – drink frequent sips of water; avoid drinking alcohol; use artificial saliva, mouth rinses, sugarless gum or lozenges; keep your mouth very clean, limit sugar, regular check-ups with a dentist
  • general dryness – increase indoor humidity; use preservative-free moisturiser for skin; avoid drying conditions such as drafts from heaters and air conditioners, use a saline spray for a dry nose, avoid exposure to dusty or windy weather.

Last reviewed: May 2017

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