sjogren's syndrome

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Overview

Sjogren's (SHOW-grins) syndrome is a disorder of your immune system identified by its two most common symptoms — dry eyes and a dry mouth.

The condition often accompanies other immune system disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In Sjogren's syndrome, the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands of your eyes and mouth are usually affected first — resulting in decreased tears and saliva.

Although you can develop Sjogren's syndrome at any age, most people are older than 40 at the time of diagnosis. The condition is much more common in women. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of Sjogren's can be different from person to person. You may have just one or two, or you may have many. By far, the most common symptoms are:

Dry mouth that may have a chalky feeling or feeling or feel like cotton 

Dry eyes that may burn, itch, or feel gritty

Dry throat, lips, or skin

Dryness in your nose

A change in taste or smell

Swollen glands in your neck and face 

Skin rashes and sensitivity to UV light

Dry cough or shortness of breath

Feeling tired

Trouble concentrating or remembering things

Headache

Dryness in the vagina in women

Swelling, pain, and stiffness in your joints 

Heartburn, a sensation of burning that moves from your stomach to your chest

Numbness or tingling in some parts of your body


Causes

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease, which means something triggers your immune system to attack healthy cells. This attack damages the tear system in your eyes and the salivary glands in your mouth.

Exactly what causes this abnormal immune system response is not clear. These factors may play a role:

Environmental factors.

Genetics.

Sex hormones (the condition affects more women than men).

Viral infections.

Risk factors

There’s no one specific cause or risk factor for Sjögren’s syndrome. Nine out of 10 people who have the condition are women, and postmenopausal women are particularly likely to develop the problem.

Research is currently being done to see if estrogen is associated with the condition.

Other autoimmune disorders are often present, and a family history of the condition appears to increase your risk of developing the syndrome.

Age. Sjogren's syndrome is usually diagnosed in people older than 40.

Sex. Women are much more likely to have Sjogren's syndrome.

Rheumatic disease. It's common for people who have Sjogren's syndrome to also have a rheumatic disease — such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.


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Complications

Since you don't have enough saliva, which helps protect your teeth from decay, there's a chance you may get more cavities than other people. You could also get inflammation of your gums, called gingivitis, or yeast infections in your mouth. You also may find it hard to swallow. Dryness in your nose can lead to issues like nosebleeds or sinusitis.

 Dry eyes can make you more likely to get infections around your eyes that can harm your cornea. You also may notice some new issues with your vision.

Other less common health conditions linked to Sjogren’s include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Interstitial cystitis

Problems with your liver, like chronic active autoimmune hepatitis or primary biliary cholangitis

Conditions that affect your lungs, like bronchitis or pneumonia

Inflammation in your lungs, liver, and kidneys

Lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph nodes

Nerve issues

Prevention

Because no one knows exactly what causes Sjögren's syndrome or other autoimmune diseases, there is no known way to prevent it.