What Causes Sjögren’s Syndrome?

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  • While the main cause of Sjögren’s syndrome hasn’t been determined, there are risk factors that could cause a person to be more prone to this autoimmune disorder
  • Should a person develop Sjögren’s syndrome, the body’s immune system will first target glands that produce tears and saliva. However, this autoimmune disorder may trigger damage in other body parts and possibly cause further problems

Sjögren’s syndrome is a disease that affects the function of your body’s moisture glands, specifically those responsible for your producing saliva and tears. This disease arises because the immune system mistakenly attacks the aforementioned glands.1 While the main cause of Sjögren’s syndrome hasn’t been determined, there are risk factors that could cause a person to be more prone to this autoimmune disorder.2

What Are the Risk Factors for Sjögren’s Syndrome?       

Sjögren’s syndrome may occur in people with any of the following risk factors:3

Age: Adults over 40 years old are more prone to be affected with this disorder.

Sex: The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation highlights that 9 out 10 patients with this disease are women.4

Autoimmune diseases: If a person has another autoimmune disease like scleroderma, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, they may be predisposed to Sjögren’s syndrome.5

Having a family history of Sjögren’s syndrome or other autoimmune illnesses: In 2013, researchers from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation discovered seven genes that may increase a person’s risk for Sjögren’s syndrome:6

IRF5 and STAT4: During an immune response, these two cells serve as “master regulators” that initiate cell activity.

CXCR5: These cells oversee lymphocyte activity in your body, and may possibly shed insight on immune cells’ tendency to attack moisture-producing glands. 

TNP1 and TNFAIP3: Together, these genes may inhibit proper function of the immune system.

IL2A: It acts as an inter-cell messenger and facilitates immune responses.

BLK: This type of B-cell gene may be responsible for increased numbers of antibodies in your system.

Having family members that have been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosus and autoimmune thyroid disease may be at higher risk of developing Sjögren’s syndrome.7 However, this does not guarantee that people with genes for Sjögren’s syndrome will automatically have this condition in the future. More studies are still needed to fully confirm the link between genetics and the development of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Lastly, remember that Sjögren's syndrome can be quite unpredictable. Even if you don’t have the genes or your family does not have a history of autoimmune disorders, there’s still a possibility that Sjögren's syndrome may develop. Hence, it’s wise to take proactive measures to prevent the disease.8

Apart from these risk factors, a virus- or bacteria-caused infection that may induce a triggering mechanism in your body and cause Sjögren’s syndrome to develop.9

How Does Sjögren’s Syndrome Cause Pain in the Body?

Typically, the glands that produce tears and saliva are the main targets of your immune system if you develop Sjögren’s syndrome. However, this autoimmune disorder may trigger damage in other body parts and possibly cause further problems such as:10,11,12

Eyes: Dry eyes, corneal ulcerations and infections

Mouth: Dry mouth, mouth sores, dental decay, and chewing, talking (speech), tasting and/or denture difficulties

Nose: Dry nose, recurrent sinusitis and nose bleeds

Throat: Swallowing difficulties, heartburn and esophagitis

Thyroid: Abnormal thyroid hormone levels (because Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis may occur alongside Sjögren’s syndrome)

Lungs: Recurrent bronchitis, pneumonia and interstitial lung disease

Joints in the arms: Arthritis and muscle pain

Joints in the fingers and feet: Peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the extremities) or Raynaud’s phenomenon (coldness and numbness in the joints in response to cold temperatures or stress13)

Kidneys: Kidney pain

Liver: Abnormal liver function tests, chronic active autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cirrhosis

Stomach: Stomach upset, gastroparesis and autoimmune pancreatitis

Vagina: Vaginal dryness and painful sexual intercourse

Skin: Dry skin

Blood cells: Vasculitis (blood vessel inflammation14)

Nerves: Neurological problems, concentration and memory loss (brain fog)

If you or someone you know experiences pain in any of these body parts, talk to a medical professional immediately so you can be checked and/or treated for Sjögren’s syndrome.

MORE ABOUT SJÖGREN'S SYNDROME

Sjögren's Syndrome: An Introduction

What Is Sjögren's Syndrome?

Sjögren's Syndrome Symptoms

Sjögren's Syndrome Causes

Sjögren's Syndrome Treatment

Sjögren's Syndrome Prevention

Sjögren's Syndrome Diet

Sjögren's Syndrome FAQ

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