Sjogren's Syndrome

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As one of the country’s leading research centers for rheumatic diseases, UT Southwestern’s Rheumatology Program combines expert care with the latest medical resources.

Our specialists provide compassionate care to diagnose and treat Sjogren’s syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder, helping to improve our patients’ quality of life.

Experts in Treatment for Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the glands that produce moisture, such as the tear and salivary glands, resulting in dry eyes and a dry mouth.

Sjogren’s syndrome can be primary (when there is no other associated autoimmune disease) or secondary (in association with an established autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus).

Causes and Risk Factors of Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome affects 0.5 to 1 percent of the population. People of any race or age can acquire the syndrome, but it more commonly affects women.

Although the exact cause is unknown, certain genetic factors or environmental triggers might predispose people to developing Sjogren’s syndrome.

Factors that increase the risk of Sjogren’s syndrome include:

  • Age of 40 or older
  • Female gender
  • Another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

Symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome

In people with Sjogren’s syndrome, symptoms usually affect the eyes and mouth first. Common symptoms include:

Eye symptoms:

  • Dry, burning, or itchy eyes
  • Sensation of something in the eye

Mouth and throat symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing, speaking, or eating dry foods
  • Hoarseness or dry cough
  • Mouth sores or pain
  • Enlargement of the salivary glands
  • Tooth decay and gum inflammation
  • Thick or stringy saliva

Other symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Skin or vaginal dryness

Less common symptoms include:

  • Neuropathies
  • Inflammation of the lungs, kidneys, or liver
  • Skin rashes
  • Thyroid gland disorders
  • Lymphoma

Diagnosing Sjogren's Syndrome

Because some symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome resemble those of other conditions, it’s important for patients to see their doctor if they have any of these symptoms.

At UT Southwestern, our rheumatologists (specialists in diseases that affect the immune system, joints, bones, and muscles) conduct a thorough evaluation, which includes a:

  • Physical exam to check for dry eyes and mouth
  • Discussion of personal and family medical history
  • Discussion of symptoms

To rule out other conditions, our doctors might recommend one or more tests, such as:

  • Blood tests to evaluate for the presence of autoantibodies such as anti-SSA and anti-SSB antibodies, signs of inflammation, and liver and kidney function
  • Eye exams including the Schirmer tear test to check for ocular dryness and slit lamp eye test to assess for possible damage to the cornea (clear, outer layer of the eye)
  • Biopsy of the salivary gland (usually in the inner lip), which may indicate inflammation of the gland

Treatment for Sjogren's Syndrome

After we confirm a diagnosis, we work together to develop an effective treatment plan to address each patient’s specific needs. Depending on the areas of the body affected by Sjogren’s syndrome, we might recommend one or a combination of treatment options, such as:

  • Prescription eyedrops to relieve eye inflammation and dry eye
  • Medications to help increase saliva or tear production
  • Good oral hygiene and dental care
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for arthritis symptoms such as pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication, which can help with joint pain and rashes
  • Immunosuppressive medications, depending on systemic symptoms
  • Regular exercise and good sleep hygiene

 For more information about Sjorgen’s syndrome, visit the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, www.sjogrens.org.

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