Sjögren’s (say: “show-grins”) syndrome is an immune disorder that causes severe dryness in the mouth, eyes and other areas of the body that have mucus membranes. A mucus membrane is a thin layer of tissue that covers surfaces inside the body to protect them.
The most common symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome is having severe dryness in the eyes and mouth. This lasts for at least 3 months and isn’t caused by any medicines you are taking. Your eyes may feel gritty and itchy. You may have trouble swallowing, eating dry foods, or even speaking. You may also feel very tired.
In more severe cases of Sjögren’s syndrome, a person may have dryness in other areas of the body that have mucus membranes. Dryness of the membranes in the joints can cause inflammation (swelling) and eventually arthritis. The dryness caused by Sjögren’s syndrome can damage the tissue of the lungs (which can result in a chronic, or long-lasting, dry cough), the nerves in the nervous system or the kidneys. It can also cause skin rashes.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease. This means that your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy cells. Doctors don't know exactly what causes Sjögren’s syndrome. It usually affects women in their late 40s and early 50s. Sjögren’s syndrome may develop in people who have other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease or lupus.
Treatment includes over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription eye drops to help with dry eyes and saliva substitutes to help with dry mouth. You can also chew sugarless gum and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to help with dry mouth. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe medicines that will help your body make more tears and saliva.
If you have joint pain associated with Sjögren’s syndrome, your doctor may recommend taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (also called an NSAID) such as ibuprofen (two brand names: Advil, Motrin). This medicine can help relieve the pain and swelling in your joints.
Depending on your symptoms and whether you have organ damage from Sjögren’s syndrome, your doctor may prescribe other medicines and treatments.
Currently, there is not a cure for Sjögren’s syndrome. However, in most cases, treatment can help relieve your symptoms and prevent complications.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff