Sjögren's syndrome 

Introduction 

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

Women's health 40-60

Healthy living advice for women aged 40 to 60. Includes real stories on losing weight and alcohol dangers

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

The effects of Sjögren's syndrome can be widespread. Certain glands become inflamed, which reduces the production of tears and saliva, causing the main symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome, which are dry eyes and dry mouth.

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

Read more about the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome.

What causes Sjögren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune condition, which means that instead of protecting the body from infection or illness, the immune system reacts abnormally and starts attacking healthy cells and tissue.

In Sjögren's syndrome, the immune system attacks the tear and saliva glands, and other secretory glands throughout the body.

The reasons for this remains unknown, but research suggests that it's triggered by a combination of genetic, environmental and, possibly, hormonal factors.

Some people are thought to be more vulnerable to the syndrome when they're born and that certain events, such an infection, can trigger the problems with the immune system.

Read more about the causes of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Healthcare professionals classify Sjögren's syndrome as being either:

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

Diagnosing Sjögren's syndrome

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

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and carry out a test to see how dry your mouth and eyes are.

Read more about diagnosing Sjögren's syndrome.

Treating Sjögren's syndrome

There is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, but treatments can help control symptoms.

Dry eyes and mouth can usually be helped with artificial tears and saliva.

It's important to maintain good eye and mouth hygiene, because your risk of developing an infection is greater. Taking care of your eyes and mouth can help prevent problems such as corneal ulcers and tooth decay.

In severe cases, medication or surgery may be recommended.

Read more about treating Sjögren's syndrome.

Complications of Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome can sometimes lead to complications. For example, your eyesight could be permanently damaged if the reduced tear production isn't treated.

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

Women with Sjögren's syndrome have an increased risk of having children with a temporary "lupus" rash or heart abnormalities. Any pregnancy will be closely monitored for potential problems.

Read more about the complications of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Who's affected by Sjögren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome most commonly affects people aged 40-60, with women accounting for about 90% of cases.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people are affected by the syndrome because many don't see their GP about their symptoms.

However, Arthritis Research UK estimates that there may be up to half a million people in the UK who have Sjögren's syndrome.




Page last reviewed: 14/10/2014

Next review due: 14/10/2016

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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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Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is where the eyes don't make enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly

Thirst

Feeling thirsty all the time and for no obvious reason is not normal and should be investigated by your GP