by Robert S. Dinsmoor
An autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands, causing inflammation that stops them from working properly. Sjögren syndrome affects an estimated 1 to 4 million Americans, 90% of whom are women. Its typical symptoms are dryness of the eyes and mouth, but it can also cause dryness of the skin, nose, and vagina as well as fatigue and joint pain. Symptoms can range in severity from mild to debilitating and can fluctuate over time. Dryness symptoms are often more annoying than medically serious, but other, less common symptoms, such as lung and kidney problems caused by inflammation, can be quite serious. Sjögren syndrome can occur by itself, or it can accompany other autoimmune conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Sjögren syndrome is often difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can resemble those of RA, SLE, or other conditions. Eye and mouth dryness can also be a side effect of many medicines, including antidepressants, decongestants, and some blood pressure medicines. A mouth exam and a lip biopsy can help confirm a diagnosis of Sjögren syndrome, as can certain eye tests by an ophthalmologist. Several blood tests can help determine whether Sjögren syndrome is causing inflammation in other parts of the body.
There is no cure for Sjögren syndrome, but there are ways to treat the symptoms. Artificial tears and salivas, skin lotions, saline nasal sprays, and vaginal lubricants, which are all available over the counter, can help relieve dryness. The prescription drugs cevimeline (Evoxac) and pilocarpine (Salagen) may relieve dry mouth by making the salivary glands produce more saliva. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help relieve joint and muscle pain, and in severe cases, corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs (for example, methotrexate) may help reduce inflammation and ease lung and kidney problems.
Last Reviewed on September 7, 2011
Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.
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