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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

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 possible that genetic factors play a part. It is also possible that a viral infections might trigger an abnormal response from the immune system. But research hasn’t confirmed either of these possibilities for sure.

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
  • biopsy - a small sliver of tissue from your lip is checked for presence of inflammatory cells.

Sjögren’s syndrome treatment

Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, as there is no cure.

Ways to manage symptoms include:

  • dry eyes - use artificial tears or an eye lubricant; regular check-ups with an ophthalmologist (eye specialist)
  • dry mouth - drink more water; avoid drinking alcohol; use artificial saliva, mouth rinses or lozenges; regular check-ups with a dentist
  • general dryness - increase indoor humidity; use moisturiser for skin; avoid drying conditions such as drafts from heaters and air conditioners, and exposure to dusty or windy weather.

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

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

Sources:

Mayo Clinic (Sjögren’s syndrome), myDr (Sjögren’s syndrome)

Last reviewed: April 2015

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