Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that can affect a wide range of organs in the body. It particularly affects secretion production at the mucous membranes, causing dry mouth, decreased tear production, and dryness of other body membranes. Dry eyes and dry mouth is often referred to as 'sicca syndrome' and Sjögren's is a very important cause.
Symptoms of Sjögren's may include;
- dry and gritty eyes
- dry mouth with difficulty chewing and swallowing
- decreased sense of taste and smell
- swollen salivary glands, especially the parotid
- dryness of the vagina, painful intercourse
- swollen lymph nodes
- joint pains
More rarely the following may also occur
- Raynaud’s (20%)
- Kidney involvement
- Neuropathy, causing numbness or tingling in hands or feet
- Vasculitis, which can cause rashes especially on the legs
Sjögren’s syndrome is much more common in women than men (9:1), and usually occurs between 40-60 years. It is estimated that 0.5-3% of the adult population may be affected. In the UK, 500,000 people may be affected.
In Sjögren’s syndrome, the body’s immune system mistakenly reacts to the tissue in glands that produce secretions such as the salivary and tear glands. These glands typically have immune cells known as lymphcytes inside them which results in damage. The presence of particular autoantibodies in the blood is used to help diagnosis.
Sjögren’s syndrome can occur alone (primary Sjögren’s syndrome) or from another well-defined autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), polymyositis (PM), and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).
There is an increased likelihood of lymphoma among patients with primary Sjogren’s syndrome.