Sjögren’s Syndrome

What is Sjögren’s syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects the glands that produce tears and saliva. An autoimmune disease causes your body to attack your own tissue by mistake.

What is the cause?

When you have Sjögren’s syndrome, your immune system makes antibodies that attack and destroy the glands that make moisture in your body, such as tears and saliva. Damage to these glands keeps them from working properly and causes dry eyes and dry mouth. The antibodies can also affect your lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, or nervous system.

The exact cause of Sjögren’s syndrome is not known. It may be inherited or it may start after you have a bacterial or viral infection.

The disorder occurs most often in women between ages 40 and 65. Sjögren’s syndrome may happen along with other diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Dry eyes, mouth, and skin
  • Pain or feeling you have something in one or both of your eyes
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing
  • Sore mouth and tooth decay
  • Swollen salivary glands in front of your ears
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Nosebleeds, sinus infections, hoarseness, or a cough
  • Feeling tired all of the time

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you.

You may have tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Eye exams
  • A saliva test, which is a test to see how much and how long it takes your glands to make saliva
  • Salivary gland biopsy, which is the removal and testing of a small sample of tissue from your inner lip

How is it treated?

There is no known cure, but treatment can help the symptoms. Treatment depends on what parts of your body are affected and how severe your symptoms are. To relieve dryness, your provider may recommend:

  • Using artificial tears eyedrops during the day and artificial tears ointment at night
  • Using artificial saliva or sugarless gum to keep your mouth moist
  • Using a vaginal lubricant, such as K-Y jelly, for vaginal dryness
  • Drinking enough liquids to keep your urine light yellow in color

Other treatments may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, to lessen pain. They may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days
  • Steroids to reduce the irritation and swelling in your body. Using a steroid for a long time can have serious side effects. Take steroid medicine exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes. Don’t take more or less of it than prescribed by your provider and don’t take it longer than prescribed. Don’t stop taking a steroid without your provider’s approval. You may have to lower your dosage slowly before stopping it.
  • Medicines that keep your immune system from making antibodies, which can help lessen your symptoms.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take. Drugs that can cause dryness and make your symptoms worse include antihistamines, decongestants, and high blood pressure medicines.
  • Rinse your mouth with water several times a day. Don’t use mouthwash that contains alcohol because alcohol is drying.
  • Visit a dentist as often as recommended by your provider to have your teeth examined and cleaned.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.
  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking. Smoke can make your symptoms worse.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

For more information contact:

The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-14
Last reviewed: 2014-10-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.