Sjögren syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that causes insufficient moisture production in certain glands of the body, including the tear and salivary glands. It is a chronic, inflammatory disease that often progresses to a more complex, systemic disorder that can affect other tissues and organs in the body.
As many as four million people in the U.S. have Sjögren's syndrome which makes it one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. More than 90% of the sufferers are women. The disease can affect people of any race or age, although the average age of onset is in the late 40s.
The Sjögren's syndrome foundation states that the average time to diagnose a symptomatic person can be more than six years. The symptoms of this disorder can vary from person to person, change over time, may include non-specific symptoms such as chronic fatigue and fever, and may involve other body organs such as the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms may include decreased sense of taste and smell, dry cough, gritty eyes, dry mouth with difficulty swallowing or talking and dry skin and rashes.
Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system.
About half of the time Sjögren’s occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. When Sjögren’s occurs alone, it is referred to as “Primary Sjögren’s.” When it occurs with another connective tissue disease, it is referred to as “Secondary Sjögren’s.”
All instances of Sjögren’s are systemic, affecting the entire body. Symptoms may remain steady, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. While some people experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their functioning. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important — they may prevent serious complications and greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
There is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but it can be treated and controlled. The goals of treatment are to decrease discomfort and reduce the harmful effects of dryness.