Symptoms, Complications & Diagnosis of Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms, like dry eyes and mouth, are easy to identify but confusing too. See a doctor for acute diagnosis.

Sjogren's syndrome is basically an autoimmune disease, meaning that it causes your own immune system to start attacking the healthy tissues and cells of your body.

People above the age of 40 are more at risk of developing Sjogren's syndrome, but it can occur at any stage of life. Women are more prone to develop this disorder than men. Since it does not have a cure, the aim of treatment for this condition is to alleviate symptoms.

What Are Sjogren's Syndrome Symptoms?

Having dry eyes and a dry mouth are the most common and well-known symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome. They can result in the development of other symptoms afterwards.

However, such symptoms are synonymous with old age as well, and it is more than likely that a person having a dry mouth or dry eyes does not suffer from this disorder.

Vaginal dryness is a symptom that is experienced by women suffering from Sjogren's syndrome. This can make intercourse a painful exercise for them.

Associated Symptoms of Dry Mouth

Having a dry mouth can cause recurrent fungal infections in your mouth, dry cough, hoarse voice, make it difficult for you to speak, gum disease and tooth decay, swelling of the salivary glands, having trouble in chewing or swallowing,

Associated Symptoms of Dry Eyes

Having dry eyes can cause itchiness and stinging or burning sensation in the eyes. It can also lead to tired looking eyes, photophobia, swelling of the eyelids, emission of mucus from the eyes, feeling of having grit in your eyes.

All of the abovementioned symptoms worsen if you are boarding a plane or present in a building having an air-conditioned system or a smoky area. 

Other Sjögren's Syndrome Symptoms

People suffering from acute Sjogren's syndrome can experience many other symptoms as their immune system might start attacking other organs of their body. These symptoms include pain in the muscles, dry skin all over, swollen and paining joints, vasculitis, extreme fatigue and exhaustion and having problems in remembering things and concentrating.   

What Are the Complications of Sjogren's Syndrome?

The eyes and the mouth are the most affected by the side-effects of Sjogren's syndrome.

  • Dental cavities. Since you have a dry mouth, there is a strong possibility that you might end up having cavities. The reason for this is that saliva stops the bacteria from causing cavities. 
  • Yeast infections. If you are suffering from Sjogren's syndrome then there is a chance that you might get yeast infection, which is also known as oral thrush.
  • Vision problems. Having dry eyes can cause corneal ulcers, sensitivity to light and cloudy vision.

Other complications of Sjogren's syndrome that you are likely to get affected by include:

  • Lungs, kidneys or liver. Inflammation in the lungs can lead to the development of bronchitis and pneumonia. The functioning of the kidneys might be affected or you might end up having cirrhosis in the liver or even hepatitis.
  • Lymph nodes. Some of the patients suffering from Sjogren's syndrome might get lymphoma or lymph node cancer.
  • Nerves. Peripheral neuropathy which is characterized by a numbing or tingling sensation in the feet and hands might occur as well.

How Is Sjogren's Syndrome Diagnosed?

Sjogren's syndrome symptoms like dry mouth and eyes can be mistaken just for old age and are not enough to make a positive diagnosis. General diagnosis include:

  • An ophthalmologist can detect the presence of dryness in your mouth and eyes by examining your cornea and checking the amount of tears your eyes are producing.
  • There are medical tests that can confirm that the presence of dry mouth or dry eyes in a person is the result of an autoimmune disorder. For instance, presence of anti-SSB or anti-SSA in your blood which are both auto-antibodies. They are also known as anti-La and anti-Ro respectively. 
  • Biopsying the inner lip can also help in diagnosing primary Sjogren's syndrome in some of the cases. The biopsy is performed to reveal any inflammation that might be causing damage to the salivary glands.
  • The diagnosis of secondary Sjogren's syndrome is needed in people who start showing signs of dry eyes or mouth and are already suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or lupus which are both autoimmune disorders themselves. Lip biopsy is not usually required when diagnosing secondary Sjogren's syndrome.  

Can Other Problems Mimic Sjögren's Syndrome?

Using medications like Elavil or Pamelor which are both tricyclic antidepressants can cause symptoms or side-effects that resemble to that of Sjogren's syndrome. Moreover using Benadryl which is an antihistamine can lead to severe dryness in the mouth and eyes. In addition to this, many other autoimmune diseases can also cause these symptoms as well.  

What Causes Sjögren's Syndrome Exactly?

As explained before, Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease, which causes your own immune system to start attacking the healthy tissues and cells of your body.

There is no exact reason for the development of Sjogren's syndrome. People having a particular type of a gene might be more vulnerable to this disease, but they must get infected by a bacteria or a virus if they are to get affected by this disorder.

The moisture-producing glands present in the mouth and the eyes are the first ones that are targeted by the immune system in Sjogren's syndrome. However, other parts of the body can also get damaged in this disorder as well like nerves, liver, joints, lungs, kidneys, skin and thyroid.

What About Sjögren's Syndrome Treatment?

Over-the-counter eye lubricants and eye drops and increasing your intake of water can help you in managing the most common symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome, dry mouth and dry eyes. However, other people might require prescription medications or even surgery to alleviate the symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome.

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