Who is most likely to develop Sjögren's syndrome?
Nine of ten Sjögren's patients are women. The average age of diagnosis is late 40s although it can occur in all age groups in both sexes.
What are the symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome?
Symptoms may include a dry, gritty, or burning sensation in the eyes; difficulty talking, chewing, or swallowing; a sore or cracked tongue; dry or burning throat; a change in the sense of taste or smell; increased dental decay; joint pain; digestive problems; dry nose; dry skin; and fatigue. No two people have the exact same set of symptoms.
Is it easy to diagnose Sjögren's syndrome?
Sjögren's syndrome often is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome may overlap or "mimic" those of other diseases including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibro myalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. Because all symptoms are not always present at the same time and Sjögren's can involve several body systems, physicians and dentists sometimes treat each symptom individually and do not recognize that a systemic disease is present.
What kind of doctor treats Sjögren's?
Rheumatologists have primary responsibility for managing Sjögren's syndrome. Ophthalmologists, dentists and other specialists also can treat symptoms related to Sjögren's.
Will I die from Sjögren's syndrome?
Sjögren's syndrome is serious but generally not fatal if complications are diagnosed and treated early. In one study the incidence of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands) was 44 times higher in people with Sjögren's syndrome than in the general population. Sjögren's syndrome patients must be monitored carefully for development of related autoimmune diseases, lymphoma, and other complications.
Is there a cure?
Not yet. But with your help, there will be.
What is the difference between Primary Sjögren's versus Secondary Sjögren's?
Sjögren's is usually classified by a clinician as either primary or secondary. Primary Sjögren's occurs by itself and secondary Sjögren's occurs when another connective tissue disease is present. However, this classification does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms or complications. Primary Sjögren's and Secondary Sjögren's patients can all experience the same level of discomfort, complications and seriousness of their disease.
Will I die from Sjögren's?
Sjögren's is serious but generally not fatal if complications are diagnosed and treated early. Sjögren's syndrome patients must be monitored carefully for development of internal organ involvement, related autoimmune diseases and other serious complications. In particular, patients should be aware that the incidence of lymphomas (cancer of the lymph nodes) is significantly higher in people with Sjögren's compared to the general population.
What causes the dryness in Sjögren's?
In the autommune attack that causes Sjögren's, disease-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes target the glands that produce moisture – primarily the lacrimal (tear) and salivary (saliva) glands. Although no one knows exactly how damage occurs, damaged glands can no longer produce tears and saliva, and eye and mouth dryness result. When the skin, sinuses, airways and vaginal tissues are affected, dryness occurs in those places as well.
What research is being done on Sjögren's?
Through basic research on the immune system, autoimmunity, genetics and connective tissue diseases, researchers are continuing to learn more about Sjögren's syndrome. As they gain a better understanding of the genes involved and which environmental and hormonal factors trigger the disease, we will be able to develop more effective treatments for Sjögren's.
In addition, clinical research is being conducted around the United States. These research projects involve studying patients in a clinical setting to learn more about their symptoms, what treatments work and under what circumstances, and how best to improve quality of life.
Learn about some of the cutting-edge research that the SSF is funding.
Do you recommend flu vaccine for Sjögren's patients?
I recommend that most of my patients with Sjögren's syndrome get a flu shot unless they are allergic to eggs, have had a reaction to the vaccine previously, or have other health issues that are a contraindication to the vaccination. But it is always best to discuss the vaccination with your physician.
The side-effects of the vaccine, including achiness at the injection site and very mild flu-like symptoms, are certainly an inconvenience. But contracting the influenza virus could cause severe and even life-threatening symptoms for someone with an autoimmune disease. It could lead to a severe febrile respiratory illness that may mean significant time away from work and possibly hospitalization.
I prefer that my patients receive the vaccine in shot form rather than the nasal spray. The shot is inactivated virus particles, while the nasal form is live virus, so there is more risk of developing mild viral symptoms with the nasal administration. This risk associated with the nasal spray vaccination is higher if you are taking medications that can affect the immune system, such as azathioprine, methotrexate, or prednisone. Even still, most patients with Sjögren's who take systemic medications may receive a flu vaccination, but, again, it is always best to discuss this with your physician before taking the injection.
- Jody K. Hargrove, MD