Sj  gren's Syndrome: What Is It, Who Gets It?

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Although it's one of the most common autoimmune diseases in this country, chances are you've never heard of Sjögren's syndrome. This condition occurs when a person's white blood cells damage the glands that produce moisture throughout the body. Dry eyes and mouth are typical symptoms, but the disease can trigger serious malfunctions in major organs.

Who gets Sjögren's syndrome? Doctors have found that it affects people of all races and ethnicities. When it comes to gender, however, women are at much higher risk: Nine out of 10 people with Sjögren's are female. And while Sjögren's occurs on its own about half the time, the other half of the time it coexists with another autoimmune condition such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Sjögren's syndrome might be called a great pretender because so many of its symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. This is why it can take up to seven years to get a proper diagnosis. What are some clues that you have Sjögren's syndrome?

  • Dry nose and frequent nosebleeds
  • Dry mouth and dental decay
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Memory loss and concentration problems
  • Dry skin
  • Numbness and tingling in the legs
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Repeated episodes of bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Arthritis and muscle pain
  • Liver problems
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Fatigue

If your doctor suspects Sjögren's syndrome, he or she may perform certain blood tests that can help confirm or rule out the disorder. You also may be given ophthalmologic tests that measure the volume of your tear production and uncover dry spots on the surface of your eyes. Dental tests may include checking to see how much saliva you manufacture and whether your salivary glands are working properly or are inflamed.

While Sjögren's has no cure, certain treatments may help keep you comfortable and prevent complications. Your provider may prescribe over-the-counter or prescription drops for dry eyes and mouth. You also may need an immunosuppressant if you've had any damage to your internal organs. There is no one standard regimen of treatment, as the disease affects sufferers differently. Speak with your doctor about your particular symptoms and work together to come up with a customized care plan.

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Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation