Sjogren's syndrome 

Introduction 

In Sjogren's syndrome, the immune system usually targets the tear and saliva glands. 

What is an autoimmune condition?

Your immune system usually helps protect the body from infection and illness by making cells known as antibodies. Antibodies attack bacteria and viruses, which help prevent you from becoming ill.

An autoimmune condition causes your immune system to react abnormally. Instead of attacking foreign cells, such as bacteria, the antibodies start attacking your body's healthy cells and tissue.

In the case of Sjogren's syndrome, the tear and saliva glands are attacked.

Sjogren's (pronounced Show-grin's) syndrome is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands.

The condition can cause widespread effects. Inflammation within the glands reduces the production of tears and saliva which causes the main symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome, dry mouth and dry eyes.

In women (who are most commonly affected), the glands responsible for keeping the vagina moist can also be affected, leading to vaginal dryness.

Read more about the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome.

Health professionals classify Sjogren's syndrome as either:

  • primary Sjogren's syndrome, when the condition develops by itself and not as the result of another condition
  • secondary Sjogren's syndrome, when the condition develops in combination with another autoimmune condition, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

What causes Sjogren's syndrome?

The cause of Sjogren's syndrome remains unknown, but research suggests that it is triggered by a combination of genetic, environmental and possibly hormonal factors.

It is believed that some people are more vulnerable to the condition when they are born and that certain events, such as a viral or bacterial infection, can trigger the problems with the immune system.

Read more about the causes of Sjogren’s syndrome.

Who is affected?

Sjogren's syndrome is a relatively common condition, affecting 3-4% of adults in the UK. It's the second most common autoimmune condition after rheumatoid arthritis. However, the condition remains under recognised and often under treated.

Sjogren's syndrome can develop at any age, but most cases begin in people aged 40-60 years old. Women account for about 90% of cases.

Diagnosis

Sjogren's syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because it has similar symptoms to other conditions and there is no single test for it.

If a doctor suspects Sjogren's syndrome, they may ask you questions about your symptoms. You may also have tests to study your tear and saliva production.

Read more about diagnosing Sjogren's syndrome.

Treating Sjogren's syndrome

There is no cure for Sjogren's syndrome, but a number of treatments can help control symptoms.

Eye and mouth dryness can usually be controlled with artificial tears and saliva.

Good eye and mouth hygiene are also important, as the chances of infection are increased if you have Sjogren's syndrome. Taking care of your eyes and mouth can help to prevent problems such as corneal ulcers and tooth decay.

For more serious cases, medication or surgery may be used.

Read more about treating Sjogren's syndrome.

Complications

Sjogren's syndrome is rarely life-threatening, but it can sometimes lead to complications.

For example, your eyesight could be permanently damaged if the reduced tear production is not treated.

Sjogren's syndrome also increases your risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymph glands. However, the chances are still low, at around 5%.

Women with Sjogren's syndrome are at a higher risk of having children with lupus or heart abnormalities. This doesn't mean you can't have children, but any pregnancy will be closely monitored for potential problems.

Read more about the complications of Sjogren’s syndrome.




Page last reviewed: 09/10/2012

Next review due: 09/10/2014

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Comments

The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Girlsaloud said on 04 December 2013

Has anyone had symptoms of pins and needles in their hands with this condition? I developed this condition after having glandula fever and have very dry eyes and mouth and a dull ache in the side of my neck but have learnt to live with it. I have follow up appointments with a rheumatologist. I do sometimes find it hard to concentrate but had not associated this with this condition.

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bikersilverfox said on 14 May 2013

I think I have the symptoms of Sjogrens, I've suffered with mild depression for some years, where I feel fatigued & irratable, and until recently have been on ant depression tablets, but have been getting dry mouth with a white tongue, and a hoarseness in my voice, my eyes also sting & itch at times, I complained to my GP about the dryness and have stopped the antidepressants which have a side effect of dry mouth, but the dryness & stinging persists.
I've also had the symptoms of hay-fever for many years, so take cetirizine hydrochloride hay-fever & allergy relief tablets in the spring & summer period, but am now thinking, are a lot of my symptoms down to Sjogrens?

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littlechiefsureshot said on 17 October 2012

one cannot overlook the depression that is a component of Sjogren's -- while I have not yet encountered the mental confusion mentioned, the depression has certainly made itself known and I have been most grateful for treatment and help in dealing with it

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kenners01 said on 21 August 2012

wife has recently cut out gluten which seems to help btu still eating gluten free products which still seem to give symptoms, should she just avoid replacements ie gluten free bread etc ??

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kenners01 said on 21 August 2012

My wife has just been diagnosed with this condition. shes got to go and see a specialist to confim but shes had the symptoms for a while . people mention stages of this syndrome , anyone no what these stages are ??

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suegray42 said on 07 July 2012

My condition has improved since I discovered I am Lactose Intolerant and now use Lactofree milk and lactase tablets if I know I may be faced with eating foods that have milk in them. It has made a huge diffference to my Sjogrens.

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coeliac said on 11 May 2011

NHS, please add some text in this section for people to check for coeliac disease / gluten intolerance as a potential cause of Sjogren's syndrome. I eliminated gluten from my diet and my chronically dry, chapped lips have healed; and my dry eyes are improving. I find a lot of people posting the use of drugs as palliatives for the condition when diet / lifestyle changes could improve the syndrome at its core.

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Cheryl the Peril said on 23 April 2011

Apologises.
Cheka's comment is still there on the symptoms tab

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Cheryl the Peril said on 22 April 2011

I agee with cheka (Oct 2010) whose comments you have taken down today for no reason. She said that you have omitted to mention mental confusion and memory problems.
I know a GP with Sjogren's who was not told about the mental confusion and thought he was mentally ill and went to a psychiatrist who prescribed anti depressants. If he had been aware that mental confusion was normal he might not have gone down that route. Stopping anti depressants is difficult once you have started.

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