What is Sjögren’s syndrome?

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When you told your doctor about your chronic dry eyes and dry mouth, you had never heard the words Sjögren’s syndrome before. Fortunately, your doctor did not ignore your complaint and paid attention to all your symptoms. She recommended a follow-up visit with a rheumatologist who diagnosed you with this relatively rare autoimmune disease.

Washington University rheumatologist Nicole Droz, MD, explains, “Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of glands that produce moisture in the body. This inflammation results in symptoms such as dry eyes and dry mouth. It can occur at any age, but is most common in older women, with symptoms usually appearing between the ages of 45 and 55.

Rarely, other organs can be involved including skin, joint, muscles, lungs, kidneys or nervous system. Sjögren’s syndrome can occur by itself (primary Sjögren’s syndrome) or associated with other rheumatologic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (secondary Sjögren’s syndrome).”

When other parts of the body are involved, this can result in:

  • Swollen glands, specifically behind the jaw and in front of the ears
  • Joint pain, swelling or stiffness
  • Prolonged dry skin
  • Skin rashes
  • Chronic dry cough
  • Vaginal dryness

Symptoms vary in type and intensity, but most of the treatment is individualized based on a patient’s unique case and aimed at relieving symptoms of dry eyes and mouth. Over-the-counter, preservative-free artificial tears may be helpful for treating dry eyes. If these are ineffective, prescription eye drops maybe needed.

For treatment of dry mouth, patients are advised to avoid anything that may worsen symptoms such as smoking, alcohol or caffeine use, or consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. Small sips of water frequently throughout the day is recommended to keep the mouth moist. Sugar-free candies and lozenges may help stimulate saliva. If this is ineffective, prescription medications maybe recommended to enhance saliva production.

Patients with Sjögren’s syndrome are at increased risk for development of dental cavities and proper oral hygiene is recommended along with regular dental check-ups—at least twice a year.

The cause of Sjögren’s is not known, but research suggests that genetic factors may predispose people to developing this condition.

Dr. Droz adds, “If Sjögren’s syndrome affects organs outside of the patient’s glandular system, we will work closely with our patient to identify the most appropriate treatment regimen to address his or her symptoms.”

For more information, or to make an appointment with Dr. Droz, please call 314-286-2635. Physician referral is required.

Center for Advanced Medicine
Multispecialty Center

4921 Parkview Place, Suite 5C
St. Louis, MO 63110

Center for Advanced Medicine-South County
5201 Midamerica Place
St. Louis, MO 63129

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