Sjogren’s syndrome is a painful condition that causes a wide range of symptoms. Many Sjogren’s symptoms can even mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia. And many are hard to distinguish from the symptoms of other autoimmune diseases. That can make getting an accurate diagnosis difficult. So, understanding when your symptoms point to Sjogren’s syndrome is important when it comes to getting effective treatment.
But what exactly is Sjogren’s syndrome? What are the most common Sjogren’s symptoms? And what can you do to treat it?
What Is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Put simply, Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition. That means it’s caused by the immune system attacking the body. In a healthy immune system, the white blood cells produce cells called antibodies. These antibodies attack foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. It’s what keeps us healthy in a world filled with dangerous diseases.
But when you develop an autoimmune disease like Sjogren’s syndrome, the antibodies begin to attack your own body’s cells instead. Over time, they begin to destroy the tissue all over your body. Often this damage is most visible in the skin, which is what causes the unsightly rash that we associate with lupus. But autoimmune diseases can be deadly when they attack vital organs like the lungs, heart or kidneys.
There are a lot of different autoimmune conditions. They all seem to follow the same basic mechanism, but the sorts of tissue that they attack seem to set them apart. That’s what differentiates Sjogren’s syndrome from other autoimmune diseases.
Common Sjogren’s Symptoms
The most obvious Sjogren’s symptoms relate to the fact that the tissue that Sjogren’s attacks are the moisture producing cells in the body. The antibodies begin destroying the tear ducts and salivary glands. This damage is what produces some of the most common Sjogren’s symptoms.
The most obvious sign that someone has Sjogren’s syndrome are chronically dry eyes. While everyone’s eyes get irritated from time to time, the natural moisture that your eyes produce is usually enough to prevent any serious damage. But for someone with Sjogren’s, their eyes can’t produce the fluid they need. This leads to painfully dry eyes that can feel like there is sand or dirt in them.
The second most distinctive of the common Sjogren’s symptoms is a dry mouth. Again, it’s common for people to get dry mouths, but if your mouth is uncomfortably dry for weeks or months, then you may have Sjogren’s syndrome. In addition, the salivary glands in your mouth might become swollen and inflamed leading to painful lumps in your mouth or throat.
Finally, if you’re a woman, you might suffer from vaginal dryness as well.
There are also a few less obvious Sjogren’s symptoms. Sjogren’s can cause muscle weakness, joint pain, and chronic fatigue. These are commons symptoms among autoimmune diseases. So it can be tough to diagnose Sjogren’s syndrome if you don’t recognize the symptoms involving the mouth or eyes. Luckily, there are a few ways to test for Sjogren’s.
Your doctor can test your blood for the presence of high antibody levels. This is called an ANA test and is a good way to determine if you have an autoimmune disease. Your doctor can combine this test with a test of the moisture production of your tear ducts to give you an accurate Sjogren’s diagnosis.
How Can You Treat Sjogren’s?
Sjogren’s syndrome is treated like most other autoimmune diseases. The first step in treating Sjogren’s is dealing with the inflammation that can damage your vital organs. And one of the most commonly used drugs to do that are NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs are typically simple over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin. They help control the pain of Sjogren’s while fighting the inflammation.
And you can often manage the dryness caused by Sjogren’s with over-the-counter eye drops. Secondly, make sure that you’re drinking enough water. Staying hydrated is key when it comes to managing Sjogren’s.
Finally, doctors often prescribe immunosuppressive drugs to treat Sjogren’s syndrome. Immunosuppressive drugs work by reducing the number of antibodies that your cells produce. Fewer antibodies mean less damage to your tissue and less inflammation. That makes immunosuppressants effective for treating Sjogren’s symptoms. The downside is that these drugs can leave you vulnerable to infections since they weaken your immune system.
What’s important is that you recognize the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome early. The longer the disease goes untreated, the more damage it can do.
So if you have any questions about Sjogren’s, or if you want to share your experiences with the condition, let us know in the comments.