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Sjögren's syndrome

Understanding your condition


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Key points

  • Sjögren’s syndrome affects the glands in your body that make moisture

  • It most often causes dryness in the eyes and mouth

  • There’s no cure, but it can be managed 

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition. That means it occurs as a result of a faulty immune system. 

Your immune system is designed to identify foreign bodies (e.g. bacteria, viruses) and attack them to keep you healthy. However in the case of Sjögren’s syndrome your immune system attacks the glands in your body that make moisture (e.g. tears, saliva). This prevents the glands from working properly and causes dryness of the eyes, mouth or other tissues. 

Symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe, and the way it progresses is often unpredictable. 


There’s no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but it can be managed effectively. 


Cause

We don’t know what causes Sjögren’s syndrome. It appears that your genes may play a role, combined with an outside trigger such as a bacteria or virus. 


It’s also more likely to affect people who have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and lupus.


Symptoms

The most common symptoms are: 

  • dry eyes (irritation, feeling gritty or itchy, burning)

  • dry mouth (difficulty chewing or swallowing)

  • swelling and tenderness of the glands around your face, neck, armpits and groin

  • tiredness (fatigue)

  • joint pain and general achiness.


Other areas can be affected

Sjögren’s syndrome is a systemic condition, which means it can affect your whole body. 

The mucous membranes of your nose and vagina can become dry and internal organs (e.g. kidneys, lungs, liver) may become inflamed. The structures of the circulatory and nervous systems can also be affected. 

Common complications include dental decay, skin rashes and an increased risk of developing thrush infections in the mouth.   



Diagnosis

It can be difficult to diagnose Sjögren’s syndrome as there are many conditions that have similar symptoms. 


Dry mouth and eyes can also be the side effects of medications for other problems, such as depression and high blood pressure. 


Diagnosing may involve a number of tests including: 

  • blood tests – may be used to check the levels of particular immune system cells in your blood, and to check for any problems with your kidneys or liver

  • a Schirmer’s test – special blotting paper is held to eye to measure tear production

  • eye examination – including the use of special dyes

  • biopsy – a small piece of salivary gland tissue is removed (usually from the lip) and examined under a microscope. 



Treatment

While there’s no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, it can be managed effectively. 


Treatment may include: 

  • artificial tears and lubricating ointments for the eyes

  • artificial saliva

  • mouth rinses and lozenges

  • nasal sprays

  • vaginal lubricants

  • moisturising lotion for the skin

  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – these medications, e.g. naproxen, ibuprofen, help control inflammation and provide temporary pain relief

  • corticosteroid medications – may be used as a temporary treatment for joint pain

  • immunosuppressive medications - e.g. hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate, may be used to help control your overactive immune system.  


Self-management

There are many things you can do to manage your condition including:


  • avoid dry and dusty environments

  • avoid air drafts or windy weather

  • wear protective glasses when outside in the wind and sun

  • drink water regularly

  • exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking and reduce stress to help your overall health and wellbeing

  • eat soft, moist foods if you have trouble swallowing

  • eat smaller, more frequent meals to stimulate saliva flow

  • avoid salty, acidic or spicy foods and carbonated drinks that may be painful if your mouth is dry

  • practice good dental hygiene and visit your dentist often.



Where to get help

  • Your doctor

  • Rheumatologist

  • Ophthalmologist (eye doctor)

  • MOVE muscle, bone & joint health
    National Help Line: 1800 263 265



Things to remember

  • Sjögren’s syndrome affects the glands in your body that make moisture

  • It most often causes dryness in the eyes and mouth

  • There’s no cure, but it can be managed 



How we can help

Need medical information regarding your condition and commonly prescribed treatments? Or assistance navigating the health, disability and social services systems? 
Contact our nurses on the Help Line on 1800 263 265 or email helpline@move.org.au.

Interested in finding out about our upcoming webinars and seminars and other events? Click here to learn more.


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The whole or part of this material is copyright to the State of Victoria and the Better Health Channel. Reproduced with permission of the Victorian Minister for Health. Users are permitted to print copies for research, study or educational purposes.  

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