Sjögren's is an incredibly complex disease and can be very difficult to understand. We have listed some of the most frequently asked questions in order to help people learn about Sjögren's while avoiding misinformation.
A: Sjögren’s (“SHOW-grins”) is a systemic autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. Along with symptoms of extensive dryness, other serious complications include profound fatigue, chronic pain, major organ involvement, neuropathies and lymphomas. Today, as many as four million Americans are living with this disease. Learn more at our About Sjögren’s page.
A: The most common symptoms include dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue and musculoskeletal pain. However, no two people have the exact same set of symptoms so patients should remember to share all their symptoms with their primary healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis. See the website’s symptoms page for a full list of Sjögren’s symptoms.
A: Nine out of ten Sjögren’s patients are women. The average age of diagnosis is late 40s, although it can occur in all age groups, including children, and in both sexes.
Sjögren’s often is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The symptoms of Sjögren’s may mimic those of menopause, drug side effects, allergies, or medical conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. Because all symptoms are not always present at the same time and because Sjögren’s can involve several body systems, physicians, eye care providers and dentists sometimes treat each symptom individually and do not recognize that a systemic disease is present. The average time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis is 3 years.
A: Sjögren’s can be difficult to diagnose. No single test will confirm the diagnosis and Sjögren’s may appear in many different forms in different patients. Click here to view our page on diagnosing Sjögren’s.
A: Rheumatologists have primary responsibility for managing Sjögren’s. Patients are also seen and treated by specialists such as eye care providers, dentists and other specialists depending on a patient’s complications.
A: Currently, there is no cure for Sjögren’s. However, treatments may improve various symptoms and prevent complications. Prescription medicines for dry eye and dry mouth are available. A number of over-the-counter products may also be used to alleviate different types of dryness. Immunosuppressive medications are also used to treat the serious internal organ manifestations.
A: In the autoimmune attack that causes Sjögren’s, disease-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes target the glands that produce moisture – primarily the lacrimal (tear) and salivary (saliva) glands. Although no one knows exactly how damage occurs, damaged glands can no longer produce tears and saliva, and eye and mouth dryness result. When the skin, sinuses, airways and vaginal tissues are affected, dryness occurs in those places as well.
A: Through basic research on the immune system, autoimmunity, genetics and connective tissue diseases, researchers are continuing to learn more about Sjögren’s. As they gain a better understanding of the genes involved and which environmental and hormonal factors trigger the disease, we will be able to develop more effective treatments for Sjögren’s.
In addition, clinical research is being conducted around the United States. These research projects involve studying patients in a clinical setting to learn more about their symptoms, what treatments work and under what circumstances, and how best to improve quality of life.