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Sjogren's syndrome

Sjögren's (pronounced Show-grin's) syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands.

The effects of Sjögren's syndrome can be widespread. Certain glands become inflamed, which reduces the production of tears and saliva, causing the main symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome, which are dry eyes and dry mouth.

In women (who are most commonly affected), the glands that keep the vagina moist can also be affected, leading to vaginal dryness.

Read more about the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome.

What causes Sjögren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune condition, which means that instead of protecting the body from infection or illness, the immune system reacts abnormally and starts attacking healthy cells and tissue.

In Sjögren's syndrome, the immune system attacks the tear and saliva glands, and other secretory glands throughout the body.

The reasons for this remains unknown, but research suggests that it's triggered by a combination of genetic, environmental and, possibly, hormonal factors.

Some people are thought to be more vulnerable to the syndrome when they're born and that certain events, such an infection, can trigger the problems with the immune system.

Read more about the causes of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Healthcare professionals classify Sjögren's syndrome as being either:

  • primary  when the syndrome develops by itself and not as the result of another condition
  • secondary  when the syndrome develops in combination with another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

Diagnosing Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, because it has similar symptoms to other conditions and there is no single test for it.

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and carry out a test to see how dry your mouth and eyes are.

Read more about diagnosing Sjögren's syndrome.

Treating Sjögren's syndrome

There is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, but treatments can help control symptoms.

Dry eyes and mouth can usually be helped with artificial tears and saliva.

It's important to maintain good eye and mouth hygiene, because your risk of developing an infection is greater. Taking care of your eyes and mouth can help prevent problems such as corneal ulcers and tooth decay.

In severe cases, medication or surgery may be recommended.

Read more about treating Sjögren's syndrome.

Complications of Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome can sometimes lead to complications. For example, your eyesight could be permanently damaged if the reduced tear production isn't treated.

Sjögren's syndrome also increases your risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymph glands. However, the chances are still low, at around 5%.

Women with Sjögren's syndrome have an increased risk of having children with a temporary "lupus" rash or heart abnormalities. Any pregnancy will be closely monitored for potential problems.

Read more about the complications of Sjögren’s syndrome.

Who's affected by Sjögren's syndrome?

Sjögren's syndrome most commonly affects people aged 40-60, with women accounting for about 90% of cases.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many people are affected by the syndrome because many don't see their GP about their symptoms.

However, Arthritis Research UK estimates that there may be up to half a million people in the UK who have Sjögren's syndrome.

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