Sjögren's syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own moisture producing glands. As a result, a person with this condition usually experiences dry eyes and a dry mouth. Sjögren's syndrome also may cause dryness of the skin or vagina, and may affect other organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract or nervous system. Patients may suffer from joint pain or fatigue.
The UCSF Sjögren's Syndrome Clinic is the only one of its kind on the West Coast. It is staffed by ophthalmologists, and oral medicine specialists in collaboration with rheumatologists.
The hallmark symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome are extreme dry eyes and mouth. Some people also may experience joint pain, swelling and/or stiffness.
Sjögren's syndrome can occur by itself, called primary Sjögren's syndrome. When it occurs with another rheumatic disease — such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, scleroderma and polymyositis-dermatomyositis, it's called secondary Sjögren's syndrome.
Affecting as many as 4 million Americans, Sjögren's syndrome is one of the most common of the autoimmune diseases. Nine out of 10 patients are women, and onset is typically in middle age. The cause of the disease is unknown, although heredity, infection and hormones may be contributing factors.
Diagnosing Sjögren's syndrome can difficult because the symptoms can often mimic those caused by other diseases. Additionally, side effects from many medications can be similar to the signs and symptoms of the syndrome. However, your doctor can rule out other conditions through various tests in hopes of making a Sjögren's syndrome diagnosis.
Early diagnosis and treatment are important for preventing complications.
There are several tests that may be performed including blood tests for antibodies and inflammation, eye tests for tear production and salivary gland tests to determine saliva flow and possible gland inflammation.
Treatment for Sjögren's syndrome focuses on alleviating its symptoms, often with over-the-counter and prescription medications. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), preservative-free artificial tears, artificial salivas, unscented skin lotions, saline nasal sprays and vaginal lubricants as well as immunosuppressive medications.
For some patients, exercise can help lessen joint pain and build physical stamina.
Currently, there's no cure for the condition.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.