Sjogren’s syndrome is one of the most common autoimmune disorders. The Sjogren’s Foundation estimates that as many as 4 million Americans may be living with the disease. While the most common symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are more uncomfortable than dangerous, the disease can become serious in severe cases, so it is important to know how to recognize it early. This post will tell you everything you need to know about Sjogren’s syndrome and how to recognize its most common symptoms.
1. Dry Mouth
Along with dry eyes, this is the most common symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome. Sjogren’s syndrome attacks moisture-producing structures in the body and the mouth, and the eyes tend to be the first area affected. Dry mouth is not only inconvenient, but it can also make it significantly more difficult to eat and digest food. Saliva also serves an important protective function by creating a liquid film to protect against friction and infection. For this reason, people with Sjogren’s syndrome are also more vulnerable to thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth.
2. Dry Eyes
This, along with dry mouth, dry eyes is the most common symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome. Tears lubricate the eye, facilitating its motion. They also help protect against infection by flushing out foreign bodies, so people with Sjogren’s syndrome may be more vulnerable to eye conditions like conjunctivitis (pink eye). They may also experience blurred vision, corneal ulcerations and blepharitis.
About 70% of people with Sjogren’s syndrome will experience fatigue. Despite how common it is, the mechanisms driving fatigue in people with Sjogren’s syndrome are not poorly understood. However, scientists hypothesize that the fatigue may derive from the body’s attempts to protect itself from the autoimmune responses that cause Sjogren’s symptoms.
Without the lubrication of saliva and phlegm in the throat, people with Sjogren’s syndrome may develop a dry, raspy cough. There may also be difficulty speaking and swallowing, as well as inflammation of the esophagus.
5. Skin Dryness or Rashes
Sjorgren’s syndrome can take moisture from the skin and cause skin dryness and rashes. While there is no specific rash associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, there are some that are more common than others. According to an expert from the Sjogren’s Foundation, by far the most common skin conditions associated with Sjögren’s are xerosis, or clinically dry skin, and eczema.
6. Joint Pain
While many of the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome affect external-facing parts of the body like the mouth, eyes and skin, the disease can also affect sources of moisture inside the body, such as fluid in the joints. Reduced fluid in the joints can lead to arthritis-like pain and stiffness in the joints, particularly the fingers, wrists and ankles. There may also be pain in the shoulders, hips and knees.
Less Common Symptoms
In almost all cases, the first symptoms of Sjogren’s symptoms are dry mouth and dry eyes, and many people get diagnosed before symptoms become too severe. However, when Sjogren’s goes untreated, rare and more complicated symptoms can occur. These include dental cavities, neurological effects, such as memory loss and difficulty with cognition, and complications in pregnant women.
Who's at Risk?
Anybody can get Sjogren’s syndrome, but it is most common in people over 40, and significantly more common in women than men. Out of the estimated 4 million people who have Sjogren’s syndrome in the U.S., women account for approximately 90% of these cases.
There is no cure for at this time, and treatments are often targeted at managing symptoms, such as dry eyes and mouth.
For dry eyes, your doctor will recommend eye drops and an overnight gel. You may try warm compresses and eyelid cleansers. Eye shields and wraparound sunglasses are also recommended. For more severe cases, your doctor may bring up punctal occlusion. This is when an ophthalmologist puts small plugs into your tear ducts, blocking them. This ensures that your eye will retain moisture for longer.
Some natural options for dry mouth are sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing on sugar-free come, as this will keep a constant source of saliva in your mouth. Constant consumption of water is also recommended to keep your mouth moist. To prevent cavities, make sure you brush and floss twice per day and see your dentist twice per year.
When to Seek Medical Help
There are no definitive diagnostic tests, so you should talk to your doctor about any potential symptoms you have. They will evaluate your symptoms and help determine whether you have the disease. While the initial symptoms like dry mouth and eyes may not seem like a cause for alarm, Sjogren’s syndrome can be dangerous when left unchecked because it can cause damage to vital internal organs like the liver, heart and gastrointestinal tract. It may also cause neurological problems. So, if you suspect you or a loved one may have Sjogren’s syndrome, reach out to your doctor as soon as you can to prevent long-term complications.