Sjogren’s Syndrome: What it is – What causes it – What to do about it

What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?

Named after Henrik Sjogren, the Swedish ophthalmologist who described it, Sjogren’s Syndrome (pronounced “SHOW-gren’s”) is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells of the body. White blood cells mistakenly attack the moisture secreting glands in the eyes and mouth, therefore causing dry eyes and dry mouth.

It is estimated that 1 to 4 million Americans are affected by Sjogren’s Syndrome, and additionally suffer from discomfort, pain, and increased infections. Nearly 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with this condition are women, and although it can occur in men and women of any age group, the average onset is in the mid to late 40s. It can occur as a disorder on its own, or it may also be a delayed effect from other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, or cirrhosis.

The cause of Sjogren’s Syndrome is still unclear, though some studies believe it to be hereditary. Currently there is no cure, so treatment typically focuses on relieving the symptoms. For dry mouth, maintaining good oral hygiene is of great importance. Aside from prescribed medications to increase the flow of saliva, there are saliva substitutes on the market that can imitate saliva by replicating the wet feeling in the mouth. While this may give relief from the dry feeling, artificial saliva doesn’t perform the same in regard to bacteria as the real thing.

Signs of Sjogren’s Syndrome

Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome often overlap those of other diseases, making it harder to diagnose. Dryness can also occur as a side effect of medications for things such as high blood pressure and anti-depressants. The hallmarks of it are dry mouth and dry eyes, though some people may additionally experience the following:

  • Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Swollen salivary glands (particularly the set behind the jaw and in front of the ears)
  • Skin rashes or dry skin
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Prolonged fatigue

Progression of Sjogren’s Syndrome

Progression Of Sjogren's Syndrome

• Tongue/gum infection
• Irritation
• Sore or split skin
• Itchy, dry eyes
• Corneal ulcerations
• Eye infections
• Swollen salivary glands
• Difficulty swallowing

Dangers of Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s Syndrome may cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and have a higher risk of developing cancer in the lymph nodes.

As if the symptoms of this condition weren’t bad enough, the risk for other disease is greatly exaggerated by the lack of saliva in the mouth. Saliva plays a major role in keeping the balance of bacteria in the mouth. Saliva, being highly concentrated in oxygen, generally helps to kill harmful bacteria and wash them away. Without this natural bacteria inhibitor present, bacteria can quickly grow out of control and wreak havoc on your oral health.

Having a dry mouth is just the beginning. When the mouth is persistently dry, it can lead to gum infections and more serious conditions like gingivitis and periodontal disease- which has now been linked to other health conditions such as:

What causes Sjogren’s Syndrome?

The exact cause of Sjogren’s Syndrome is still unknown. More recent research seems to be pointing towards genetic, or hereditary causes. Scientists believe that there may also be a link between contact with certain viruses that can increase risk of developing it. In some cases, Sjogren’s Syndrome can be a delayed effect of other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

How to prevent Sjogren’s Syndrome

Because of the unclear causes, preventing Sjogren’s Syndrome can be particularly difficult. Treatment typically focuses on relieving the symptoms themselves.

Treatment of Sjogren’s Syndrome Symptoms

As there is currently no cure for Sjogren’s Syndrome, some treatments can help ease the symptoms associated with it. When dealing with dry mouth, there are some definite “do’s and don’ts” to abide by.

Things To Do When Dealing With Dry Mouth

  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for examination and cleaning
  • Rinse mouth with water several times a day
  • Use non-foaming toothpaste or a natural alternative
  • Floss teeth every day
  • Brush teeth immediately after eating sugary foods
  • Take medications that stimulate the salivary glands to produce more saliva
  • Take saliva substitutes such as those in gel form- they last longer and unlike water, make you urinate less which will result in less dehydration

 Things NOT To Do When Dealing With Dry Mouth

  • Don’t use a mouthwash which contains alcohol to rinse – it will worsen the drying
  • Avoid toothpastes that contain fluoride
  • Avoid sugar between and during meals- choose sugar free gum, candy, and soda

Costs Associate With Sjogren’s Syndrome

There are a number of blood tests your physician may perform just to diagnose Sjogren’s Syndrome. They include:

    • ANA (Anti-Nuclear Antibody)
      • ANAs are a group of antibodies that react against normal components of a cell nucleus. About 70% of Sjogren’s patients have a positive ANA test result.

 

    • RF (Rheumatoid Factor)
      • This antibody test is usually performed to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, but 60% to 70% of Sjogren’s patients have a positive RF.

 

    • SS-A (or Ro) and SS-B (or La)
      • These are the marker antibodies for Sjogren’s. 70% of patients are positive for SS-A, and 40% for SS-B.

 

  • IGs (Immunoglobulins)
    • These are normal blood proteins that participate in immune reactions, and are usually elevated in Sjogren’s patients.

What You Can Do

As we’ve discussed, one of the most important things to monitor if you suffer from Sjogren’s Syndrome is your oral health. Because excessive dryness can lead to bacterial overgrowth, it’s of the utmost importance that you maintain good oral hygiene. If you’re already doing that, but still suffering, then you should look at the products that you are using. As we mentioned, there are many ingredients in common oral care products that can dry the mouth out even more, so be sure to avoid their use and look for a natural alternative that won’t cause further distress.

Did it ever occur to you that the least expensive and least painful option might be found in nature? Why not try a great product that provides natural relief?

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