Isn’t it frustrating when you are unwell, experiencing more than the common cold, and the doctors cannot figure out what you are struggling with? One of the reasons this happens is when the symptoms are associated with other illnesses or health conditions and affects the entire body. One example is when you are affected by Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting the body’s moisture-producing glands, thereby causing dryness. A challenge with Sjögren’s is that it can mimic other diseases and conditions. It mostly affects the eyes and mouth, but it can also cause dryness in other parts of the body.
When this condition affects the eyes, the lacrimal glands tend to produce less tear fluid over the years. Because of this, patients usually complain of itchiness and irritation. They also feel as if a foreign body has entered their eyes. When the mouth is affected, less saliva is produced which can then lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Patients can also experience difficulty eating and swallowing.
Aside from dryness, Sjögren’s syndrome also causes other symptoms. These include joint pain, fatigue, and problems in different organs such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and pancreas. It is also often associated with other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It is important for people with Sjogren’s to be aware of these potential comorbidities and receive appropriate medical care.
Sjögren’s syndrome is typically diagnosed through a combination of patient history, physical examination, and laboratory testing. A doctor will usually begin by asking the patient about their symptoms. They may also perform a physical examination to check for signs of dryness, such as dry eyes or mouth, and examine the joints and other body parts for signs of inflammation.
Laboratory testing is often used to confirm the diagnosis. This may include blood tests to check for specific antibodies that are often present in people with Sjogren’s. The doctor may also perform a Schirmer’s test, which measures the amount of tear production, and a salivary gland biopsy, which can help to detect signs of inflammation and damage.
In some cases, a doctor may refer a patient to a specialist, such as a rheumatologist or an ophthalmologist, for further evaluation and testing. Since many of the symptoms are similar to other medical conditions, the diagnostic process for Sjogren’s syndrome can be complex. It is therefore important to receive a thorough evaluation from a healthcare professional with experience in diagnosing and treating the condition.
There is currently no cure for Sjögren’s but there are ways to manage the symptoms. Since each case is unique, the treatment is tailored to the specific needs of the patient. It may include a combination of the following:
- Medications. Various medications can be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. These may include artificial tears and lubricating eye drops to treat dry eyes, and saliva substitutes or prescription medications to stimulate saliva production for dry mouth. Other medications may be used to alleviate joint pain and stiffness, and reduce inflammation.
- Lifestyle changes. Some lifestyle changes can help people with Sjogren’s syndrome manage their symptoms. For example, drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeine and alcohol can help to reduce dryness.
- Dental care. Since people with Sjogren’s syndrome are more prone to dental problems due to the lack of saliva, regular dental check-ups and good oral hygiene can help to prevent complications.
- Eye care. Regular eye exams and good eye hygiene can help to manage dry eyes.
- Surgery. In severe cases of dry eye, punctal occlusion surgery can be performed to block the drainage of tears from the eye.
Living with Sjögren’s can present challenges for patients but increasing awareness and early detection can play a crucial role in reducing the severity of complications like permanent eye damage and scarring of the lungs.
Additionally, raising awareness can facilitate the provision of support and empathy to those living with Sjögren’s, which is crucial for their overall well-being. By working together to spread awareness and promote understanding, we can improve the lives of those affected by this chronic autoimmune disorder.
Help us spread awareness by sharing information about Sjögren’s syndrome. And if you or someone you know is affected by this condition, join our free Sjögren’s Syndrome Support Community so that you can have a safe and supportive online community.