What is Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by dry mouth and dry eyes. This syndrome usually affects the entire human body and often accompanies other autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Sjögren’s syndrome is more often among women than among men, usually diagnosed after the age of 40. However, this condition can affect anyone at any age.
What causes Sjögren’s Syndrome?
As mentioned, Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system attacks its own cells and tissue. The real thing that triggers the immune system is not known, however, it is believed that a viral or bacterial infection is necessary. It is also believed that certain genes increase the risk of suffering from this autoimmune disorder. First, the moister – secreting glands are affected.
However, Sjögren’s syndrome can affect every part of the body like kidneys, liver, lungs, joints, skin, nerves, etc.
What are the signs and symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome?
The signs and symptoms of this disorder may remain steady, get worse and even go into remission. While some patients only have minor signs and symptoms, others suffer from debilitating signs and symptoms that impair the normal function of their body. In this syndrome, the mucous membranes of the moister – secreting glands are usually affected first. This leads to dry mouth and dry eyes, which are often the symptoms that are noticed first.
When having dry eyes, patients notice that their eyes may burn, itch and they usually report a feeling of having sand in the eyes. When having dry mouth, it feels like it’s full of cotton, making it difficult to eat, swallow and even speak. Some other signs and symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome include dry skin, skin rash, persistent and dry cough, fatigue, joint pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints, vaginal dryness, etc.
The most common complications of this autoimmune disorder include:
• Vision problems,
• Dental cavities,
• Yeast infections,
• Kidney failure,
• Liver failure, etc.
How is Sjögren’s Syndrome diagnosed?
Sometimes it is very hard to diagnose this syndrome, as the signs and symptoms vary from one patient to another. Also, the signs and symptoms of this syndrome are very similar to other diseases. Many different medical tests and examinations can help rule out other possible diseases and medical disorders leading the diagnosis to the Sjögren’s syndrome.
Some of these tests and examinations include blood tests, eye tests and vision examinations, imaging and even biopsy. You will need to visit an eye doctor who specializes in such diseases.
How is Sjögren’s Syndrome treated?
Early diagnosis and proper treatment of this autoimmune disorder are very important as it can improve the quality of life, but also prevent serious complications. The dry eyes and dry mouth are often managed using over the counter eye drops and mouth lubricants. However, some other patients need prescription medications and in more severe cases even surgery.
Surgery treatment tries to relieve the dry eyes by sealing the tear ducts that drain the tears from the eyes. Silicone plugs or collagen plugs are used for this purpose. However, laser treatment is necessary in cases when a permanent seal of the tear ducts is necessary. The two above mentioned types (silicone or collagen plugs) only offer a temporary sealing of the tear ducts.
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