Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease, which causes chronic inflammation in the glands and mucous membranes. As such, those who suffer from Sjögren’s syndrome suffer from dry eyes and a dry mouth. These individuals can also suffer from a secondary form of Sjögren’s syndrome, in which muscular and joint disorders often occur. If the condition is confined the production of less fluid and saliva, you will suffer from the primary form (without joint problems). Sjögren’s syndrome occurs ten times more often in women than in men. The symptoms usually become apparent between the 20th and 40th year of life. About half a percent of the world’s population suffers from Sjögren’s syndrome. It is therefore the most common rheumatic disorder after rheumatoid arthritis. This disease is not life-threatening, but it is accompanied by annoying and varied complaints.

What is Sjögren’s syndrome?

In 1929, a woman visited the consultation hour of ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren in Stockholm. Her symptoms were not directly recognized as a disease by the Swedish doctor. When she cried she had no tears, her mouth was very dry and her joints were hurting. Sjögren took it as his life task to find a way to cure this mysterious disorder. Unfortunately, he did not succeed. The disease that was named after him appeared to be an autoimmune disease. Normally, our immune system makes antibodies to destroy harmful viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. But in Sjögren’s syndrome, the body makes antibodies attacking the healthy cells of the glandular tissue. These are called autoantibodies. As a consequence, the tear and saliva glands are inflamed and then no or too little moisture is secreted, leading to annoying complaints.

What is the cause of Sjögren’s syndrome?

Despite a lot of research, the cause of this disease is not yet known. In patients with Sjögren’s syndrome, autoantibodies are detected in the blood. This makes it clear that this is an autoimmune disease. Heredity or a virus may also play a role in the onset of this disease.

Sjögren's syndrome

In Sjögren’s syndrome, patients have dry eyes because there is no tear production. For example, cutting onions can be very annoying.

What are the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome?

In every Sjögren’s syndrome patient, two symptoms are present: dry mouth and dry eyes. The lack of saliva production can cause swallowing problems and loss of taste. Saliva contains anti-infectious components. If these are insufficiently present in the mouth, there may be tooth decay, inflammation of the gums and a yeast infection (spraw). The eyes may feel burning, dry and itchy in case of lack of tear fluid. Dry skin and vaginal dryness are also common symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome. Research shows that 70 percent of the people with Sjögren feel severely tired with unknown cause. There may also be complaints of the internal organs and nerves. Additionally, people with Sjögren can suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome.

What causes joint disorder in Sjögren’s syndrome?

Pain in the muscles and joints is common in people with Sjögren’s syndrome. It may include arthralgia or arthritis. In the first case, you only have painful joints without inflammation, which is the case with arthritis. Subsequently, the joint capsule is inflamed, which is accompanied by swelling, redness and warmth. If these inflammations are caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, this rarely results in joint damage.

How is Sjögren’s syndrome diagnosed?

Dry eyes and dry mouth combined with joint complaints are indicative of Sjögren’s syndrome. The doctor can then carry out a number of confirming tests. The Schirmer tear test can measure how many tears are formed. This production is decreased in this condition. The gap lamp test can also show that less tear moisture is produced. In addition, this test can clarify whether eye damage has occurred.

A salivary gland biopsy can also be done. This is when a piece of tissue is removed from the lower lip for examination. In a laboratory, glandular tissue is checked for the signs of Sjögren. Alternatively, the doctor may choose to collect saliva that has been produced in your mouth for 10 minutes. Depending on the amount, Sjögren’s syndrome might be diagnosed. In addition, a blood test can be performed to investigate inflammations or autoantibodies. When the doctor suspects complications, a scan can be made of the internal organs and lymph nodes. Moreover, a urine examination is also a possibility.

How is Sjögren’s syndrome treated?

Since this condition cannot be cured yet, treatment is aimed at limiting the symptoms. In most cases, you will be referred to a rheumatologist or an internist. He will treat your complaints often together with an ophthalmologist and mouth, jaw and facial surgeon. The eyes can be treated with eye drops and artificial tears. There are also special glasses that help keep the eyes moist. For oral use, artificial saliva is available in the form of spray, gel, liquid, tablets or pastilles. In case of joint inflammation an anti-inflammatory analgesic may be prescribed. It is known from ‘Moving Without Pain’ that liquid Green lipped Mussel with Bio-Curcumin has worked well in one patient with Sjögren. We would like to hear more experiences from people with Sjögren’s syndrome who have used this natural anti-inflammatory supplement for the joints. In case of severe joint problems, the doctor may also choose treatment with a drug called Plaquenil. This drug works in multiple forms of rheumatism and gives good results to some patients.

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