What Is Sjögren’s Syndrome?

dry tounge

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  • Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease that develops when there’s inflammation and dysfunction in the glands that are responsible for tear and saliva production
  • The antibodies attack the glands and other tissues by mistake, causing tissue inflammation and reduced tear and saliva function

Sjögren's syndrome is a type of autoimmune disorder characterized by a disruption in tear and saliva production, accompanied by tissue inflammation. These problems arise because the body produces excess amounts of antibodies in the blood that mistakenly attack the glands that produce tears,saliva,and other tissues, and eventually trigger inflammation and dysfunction.1

Dryness is a major issue for patients with this disease. Although the hallmark symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome include dry skin, eyes and mouth, in some cases the nose, upper respiratory tract and vagina may feel dry too.2,3 Furthermore, Sjögren's syndrome can negatively impact the joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles too.4

What Are the Types of Sjögren’s Syndrome?

There are two types of Sjögren’s syndrome:5,6

  • Primary Sjögren’s syndrome: If Sjögren's syndrome appears on its own without the presence of another connective tissue illness, then you’re one of the 50 percent of patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome.
  • Secondary Sjögren’s syndrome: The other half of Sjögren’s syndrome cases are secondary. This means that patients, apart from showing indicators of Sjögren's syndrome, may be affected with other autoimmune diseases like lupus  (systemic lupus erythematosus), scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis too.

Are There Complications Linked to Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome can lead to some complications.7 The Mayo Clinic highlights these adverse effects, most of which involve the eyes and the mouth:

  • Dental cavities: Saliva helps shield your teeth from cavity-causing bacteria, but because Sjögren's syndrome patients have poor saliva production, their risk for dental cavities greatly increases .
  • Yeast infections: Another negative effect of having poor saliva production8 is a higher risk for a yeast infection called an oral thrush. Sjögren's syndrome patients are said to be more prone to this infection.
  • Vision problems: Light sensitivity, blurred vision and corneal damage are possible effects of dry eyes that may develop in Sjögren's syndrome patients.

Although these are less common, watch out for complications that can affect other body parts too:9

  • Lungs, kidneys or liver: Because Sjögren's syndrome can cause inflammation in your body’s tissues, patients may be predisposed to pneumonia, bronchitis, kidney problems, and hepatitis or liver cirrhosis.
  • Lymph nodes: Lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes, may develop in a few Sjögren's syndrome patients.
  • Nerves: There is a possibility for peripheral neuropathy, characterized by numbness, tingling and burning in the hands and feet, to develop in some patients.

There are other diseases that may be associated with Sjögren's syndrome as well, such as:10

  • Autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: In some cases, autoimmune or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can cause Sjögren's syndrome patients to develop abnormal thyroid hormone levels. This can be checked using a thyroid blood test.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Heartburn and swallowing difficulties, both of which are typical GERD indicators, can manifest in patients.

Medical News Today also highlights that Sjögren's syndrome patients who spend extensive amounts of time under the sun may develop rashes. However, this isn’t the only skin condition associated with this autoimmune disorder, as the following indicators can manifest alongside rashes too:11

  • Xerosis (dry and rough skin)
  • Small “blood spots” or purpura on the lower legs caused by of vasculitis or blood vessel inflammation
  • Vasculitic skin lesions that can appear as weals, lumps, blisters or ulcers
  • Annular erythema, or red and ring-shaped lesions with a pale area in the middle 

Other potentially debilitating complications that have been associated with Sjögren's syndrome include:

  • Higher risk for multiple myeloma or cancer that develops in a plasma cell (a type of white blood cell)12
  • Interstitial cystitis of the bladder, a chronic issue characterized by pain and pressure in the bladder area13
  • Delivering a baby with heart problems or lupus 

While not much is known about the potential fatality of Sjögren's syndrome,14 it would still be wise to ensure that you inhibit these complications (and the disease) from developing. Consult your doctor immediately if you notice Sjögren's syndrome symptoms. While Sjögren's syndrome is a dangerous condition, appropriate treatment may help lower your risk for both the disease and its complications.15

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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