What is Sjogren’s syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition, which affects your body’s ability to produce secretions and fluids. This includes tears and saliva. It usually affects women more than men, and it typically develops between the ages of 40 and 60.
It’s a long-term condition, unfortunately, and can impact your day to day life. However, there are some things that can help make your life easier.
What is an autoimmune condition?
An autoimmune condition is where your body is unable to tell the difference between your own cells and cells from outside the body. This means that your body produces cells that they usually do in response to something like an infection. This leads to healthy parts of your body becoming damaged.
How common is Sjögren’s syndrome?
It affects up to 1 in 100 people in the UK.
What causes Sjögren’s syndrome?
It’s not entirely clear what causes Sjögren’s syndrome and why the immune system attacks its own cells. There are some theories about why it happens, and these are:
Hormones – because Sjögren’s syndrome is more common in women, it might be linked to the hormone oestrogen, which is the female hormone
Genetics – sometimes, autoimmune conditions can run in families and you might have a certain gene which means that the development of autoimmune conditions is more likely to happen
What are symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome?
Dry eyes – your eyes might feel gritty, uncomfortable or you might have blurry vision
Dry mouth – you might feel constantly thirsty, feel that food gets stuck in your mouth, or notice that the area around your lips and mouth becomes cracked and dry
Feeling tired all the time
Dry and itchy skin
Joint pain or swelling
How is Sjögren’s syndrome diagnosed?
If you think you have symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, a GP might refer you for a series of tests including:
Blood tests: with conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome, your body produces antibodies to attack healthy cells. The blood tests can detect if these antibodies are present.
Eye tests: You might get referred to an eye specialist, who will look to see the layer of tears across the eye. If it’s patchy, you may have Sjögren’s syndrome
Lip biopsy: A sample from the lips can test for certain types of cells under a microscope.
How is Sjögren’s Syndrome treated?
At the moment, there is no treatment for Sjögren’s syndrome itself. But, there are treatments to help with the symptoms that you experience so that your day to day life is easier.
Treatments for eye symptoms:
Artificial tears are lubricating eye drops that can help with dry eye symptoms
Sometimes, if eye drops are not effective, you might be given medications such as pilocarpine
Treatments for dry mouth symptoms:
Drink plenty of fluids to maintain the moisture in your mouth
You might be offered pilocarpine – this helps with saliva and tear production
Treatments for dry skin symptoms:
Use emollient moisturisers on the affected skin to help with dryness and/or rashes
Treatments for vaginal dryness:
Lubricants and gels may be recommended before having sex to avoid pain and dryness symptoms
You might be recommended hormone replacement treatments
When should I speak to a doctor?
If you have a family or personal history of autoimmune conditions and if you notice symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, or if you notice symptoms without a background of autoimmune conditions, you should make an appointment to speak to a GP.
How can Livi help?
A Livi GP can talk to you about your symptoms and discuss what the likely causes are. They can suggest what tests you may need to confirm a possible diagnosis of Sjögren's syndrome. If you have already been diagnosed, they can help you with the most appropriate treatment for your symptoms.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi