Sjogren’s Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Sjögren’s syndrome is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks primarily the tear and salivary glands. That’s why people affected by Sjögren’s syndrome often complain of dry mouth and eyes. You can find more information below.

What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the salivary and lacrimal glands are attacked by immune cells. Common consequences of Sjögren’s syndrome include dry eyes and chronic inflammation of the nose, mouth, and salivary glands.

What is an autoimmune disease, what does it mean?

90 percent of those affected by Sjögren’s syndrome are mostly postmenopausal women. In the group of rheumatic immune diseases, this disease is the second most common disease after rheumatoid arthritis . Sjögren’s syndrome is genetic, not contagious, and there is no targeted therapy yet.

Sjögren’s syndrome may occur as a disease independent of other rheumatic diseases of the immune system (eg, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus disease , scleroderma ) or as a concomitant disease. The diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome is made with a long delay, as symptoms such as dry eyes and dry mouth are often recognized late.

What causes Sjogren’s syndrome?

As with many other autoimmune diseases, it is not currently possible to explain why people develop Sjögren’s syndrome. Medical science does not yet know exactly what causes the immune system to malfunction. It is also unknown why Sjogren’s patients suffer from chronic fatigue and whether it is due to another illness.

Sjogren’s syndrome may be genetic to some degree. This is because close relatives of many affected patients have a similar situation. Infections, stress, and hormonal changes are also believed to trigger Sjögren’s syndrome.

Patients with inflammatory rheumatism have a higher risk of developing Sjögren’s syndrome. Sjögren’s syndrome has been observed in approximately one third of patients suffering from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus.

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What are the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome?

Despite the noticeable dry mouth and eyes , Sjögren’s syndrome is actually a different disease. It affects the whole body and leads to general symptoms such as fatigue, poor performance, feelings of burnout and fever . It can also spread to the joints, muscles, and internal organs .

Dryness of the vagina, eyes and mouth

With Sjögren’s syndrome, your immune cells primarily attack the salivary and lacrimal glands. The inflammation it causes inhibits secretion formations and can destroy glandular tissue. Chronic impairment of glandular function mainly causes dry mouth and dry eyes.

  • Dry eye : The eyes must be constantly moistened to be functional. Without tear fluid, the eyelid does not slide smoothly over the eye and we cannot move our eyes. Tears also kill pathogens and remove foreign matter from the eye. Dry eyes cause problems. The conjunctiva is red, tender, and prone to inflammation. The cornea can dry out, crack and impair vision.
  • Dry mouth : Saliva has several functions. It moisturizes the oral mucosa, inhibits bacterial growth and accelerates wound healing. It acts as a buffer against acids and helps harden tooth enamel with mineral salts. Too little saliva secretion has many negative consequences. The oral mucosa is irritated and may crack. Teeth and gums become more susceptible to tooth decay and periodontitis. The sense of taste is diminished and swallowing may be difficult. In addition, infections in the ear, nose and throat area are more common.
  • Vaginal dryness : In addition to the tear and salivary glands, other glands and mucous membranes can be affected by dehydration associated with inflammation. However, women with Sjögren’s particularly complain of severe vaginal dryness. Dryness of the vagina makes it easier for viruses, bacteria and fungi to enter the vagina and uterus.

Joint discomfort and muscle pain

In many people with Sjögren’s syndrome, the disease spreads to the musculoskeletal system. The result is inflamed joints, joint pain, and muscle pain. Inflammation of the parotid gland and blood vessels or non-inflammatory diseases of the nervous system also occur. Organs such as the lungs or kidneys are rarely affected.

chronic fatigue

The most disturbing of Sjögren’s symptoms is severe chronic fatigue. Those affected are rapidly depleted of their physical strength and need longer rest to regenerate. Persistent fatigue and exhaustion can severely limit the ability to work and quality of life.

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How is Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosed?

Since the symptoms in Sjögren’s syndrome are similar to other diseases, it is usually noticed late. Dry eyes, dry mouth, and chronic fatigue can also be caused in most cases by stress, long screen work, unhealthy sleep habits, or simply not drinking enough water.

Sjögren’s syndrome, which is relatively rare, is more difficult to follow. Years pass before the correct diagnosis is made. Diagnosis is based on international criteria based on evidence of greatly reduced tears, saliva production, and specific antibodies in the bloodstream .

In addition, the salivary glands should also be examined. Inflammation of these glands can be identified by imaging methods and demonstrated by microscopic examination of a lip mucous membrane sample ( biopsy ). If this is the case, a high concentration of immune cells ( lymphocytes ) is seen under the microscope .

How is Sjogren’s syndrome treated?

There is no clear targeted treatment for Sjögren’s syndrome yet. However, there are various ways to alleviate the complaints of those affected.

Medication

There is no drug that targets Sjögren’s syndrome. But different ways can effectively alleviate or suppress individual complaints. Each patient has to find out for themselves, together with their doctor, which drugs work best.

Artificial tears or artificial saliva can help against the symptoms of dryness. In addition, some drugs stimulate the glands to produce fluid. There are various drugs available for complaints that affect the whole organism, but your doctor will decide this.

Non-drug treatments

Some lifestyle changes can help you live better with Sjögren’s syndrome, such as:

  • Brush your teeth regularly. Use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Go to the dentist regularly. Have your teeth cleaned regularly.
  • Drink water regularly to keep the oral mucosa moist. Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Chew sugarless gum. This stimulates saliva production.
  • Make sure your body is well hydrated. Avoid air conditioning.
  • Do not smoke, avoid places where people smoke.
  • Spend lots of time in the fresh air.
  • Protect your eyes. Wear glasses, especially when there is sunlight.
  • Do not use bubble bath on dry skin, ask your doctor for help in this regard.
  • If you’re working hard, give yourself time to rest.

The most important advice for any chronic illness is to find people you can talk to about your illness and your experiences. This can help you deal with the psychological stress that comes with every chronic illness. It is therefore always advisable to seek psychological advice in addition to medical treatment.

What is good for Sjogren’s syndrome?

Here are the things that are good for substance sjögren’s syndrome:

  • Avoid dry and dusty environments.
  • Avoid drafts or windy weather.
  • If there is wind and sun outside, wear protective goggles.
  • Sip water regularly or suck on ice cubes.
  • Avoid strong soaps that can dry out your skin.
  • Try to increase the humidity in your home.
  • Exercise regularly, eat healthily, quit smoking and reduce stress to help your overall health and well-being.
  • If you have trouble swallowing, eat soft, moist foods.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals to encourage saliva flow.
  • Use lukewarm water, not too hot, when showering or bathing.
  • Chew sugarless gum to stimulate saliva.
  • Avoid salty, acidic, spicy foods and carbonated drinks.
  • Take care of your oral and dental health and visit your dentist often.
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Nutrition in Sjogren’s syndrome

In an estimated 90% of people with Sjögren’s syndrome, problems with eating can lead to malnutrition. Problems can be related to dry throat, throat swelling, intestinal tract or nerve damage. There also seems to be a significant number of people with symptoms of both Sjögren’s syndrome and celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (bloating, abdominal pain , diarrhea, or constipation ).

If you have gastrointestinal symptoms, you can work with a dietitian to find out what food sensitivities you have. A dietitian can also help you create a meal plan that is good for you and provides the nutrients you need.

Problems with gastroesophageal reflux are common among people in general and among people with Sjögren’s syndrome in particular. Your healthcare team can provide you with tips for coping with this condition. These could be things like not eating two to three hours before bed and avoiding fatty foods.

There is some suggestion that people with autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome should follow an anti-inflammatory diet to help with joint pain and other symptoms. Some people have found relief with an all-plant-based diet.

Here are some tips that can help you manage other eating problems:

  • Eat smaller and more frequent meals at a time.
  • Include soft foods in your diet.
  • Make sure you chew your food completely.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar you eat and drink water before bed.

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