Sjögren’s (“show-grins”) syndrome is a systemic autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the moisture producing glands in the body. The most common symptoms are dry eyes and mouth. In more serious cases it can cause the dysfunction of other organs, including the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and/or the central nervous system. There is also an increased risk of developing lymphoma, a cancer of immune cells, lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell.
There are two types of Sjögren’s syndrome.
- “Primary Sjögren’s” – syndrome occurs alone
- “Secondary Sjögren’s” – syndrome occurs in the presence of another autoimmune disease
Approximately 50% of those who have Sjögren’s have the second form. Some of the common diseases that co-exist with Sjögren’s syndrome are systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic sclerosis. The overlap of Sjögren’s symptoms with other autoimmune diseases has meant it has often been overlooked or misdiagnosed.
Who is affected?
It is estimated to affect 0.5% of Australians and has been found all over the world in all ethnic groups. Anyone can develop Sjögren’s. However, 9 out of 10 times the person will be female with an average age of diagnosis between 40-60 years.
Signs & Symptoms
The severity and symptoms vary greatly between individuals they may include:
- Dry eyes
- Dry mouth – difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing
- Dental problems – saliva plays an important role in oral hygiene and reduction in their production promotes dental decay and periodontal disease
- Dry ear and nose
- Swelling of the glands around the face and neck
- Extreme fatigue and/or depression
- Swelling and pain in joints
- Vaginal and skin dryness
- Digestive problems
As with most autoimmune diseases, treatment options for Sjögren’s syndrome is aimed at alleviating symptoms. There is currently no cure. The current options include artificial tears for dry eyes, moisturisers for skin, and oral medications for joint pain. Dry mouth is more difficult to treat, with artificial oral preparations available but none are entirely satisfactory. Some people find chewing sugarless gum helpful, or regularly spraying water into their mouth. It is important for sufferer’s to visit their dentist often and to practice good dental hygiene.
The Centre for Personalised Immunology is investigating the cause of this systemic autoimmune disease, to improve treatment and to help to find a cure for this little known autoimmune disorder. Read more on how CPI is helping.
Information on this page is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.