Sjogren's syndrome is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which white blood cells attack and ravage the body's moisture-producing glands. There are two types of Sjogren's syndrome--primary Sjogren's, which exists by itself; and secondary Sjogren's, which occurs in conjunction with another autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. According to the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation, about 4 million Americans suffer from Sjogren's syndrome, and 9 out of 10 patients are women. There is no cure for Sjogren's syndrome, but there are treatments for many of its symptoms.
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Dry Eyes and Nose
Dry eyes are present in most Sjogren's syndrome patients because the disease attacks the tear glands. The eyes may feel gritty, as if having sand in them. There may be a burning sensation, redness and blurred vision. Upon waking, a sticky substance may accumulate in the eyes' inner corners. Eyes can be sensitive to light. Corneal ulcers and blindness may occur in untreated cases. Dry nose in Sjogren's syndrome is due to decreased nasal secretions and can cause sinusitis and nose bleeds.
Mouth and Throat Symptoms
Because Sjogren's syndrome destroys the salivary glands, there are many mouth and throat symptoms. The salivary glands may enlarge and become tender. Patients suffer from frequent dental cavities due to a lack of saliva, which helps control bacteria on the teeth. That same lack of saliva can cause dry mouth, chapped lips, yeast infection, difficulty eating and swallowing, excessive thirst and altered taste buds. Throat and respiratory symptoms include dry cough, hoarseness, heartburn and indigestion.
The Bartholin's glands located in the vagina are responsible for lubrication. Sjogren's syndrome affecting Bartholin's glands causes vaginal dryness, which can lead to yeast infections and painful intercourse.
Fatigue occurs in the majority of Sjogren's syndrome patients. Morning fatigue usually is caused by disrupted evening sleep due to frequent bathroom trips from consuming extra fluid during the day, and from waking due to muscle or joint paint. Fatigue at other times may be due to the inflammatory process of Sjogren's syndrome, wherein the immune system releases interleukin hormones that cause tiredness.
Muscle and Joint Pain
Muscle and joint pain are common inflammatory symptoms in Sjogren's syndrome, especially in secondary Sjogren's. Numbness and tingling in the feet (peripheral neuropathy) may also be present.
Sjogren's syndrome can cause itchy, dry skin that may progress to rashes, cracked skin, infection, vasculitis and Raynaud's phenomenon. Vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessels and can cause a reddish-purple rash that may become infected. Raynaud's phenomenon is a blood circulation disorder affecting the toes and fingers which is aggravated by cold or stress. It can cause tingling and numbness in the digits and, rarely, gangrene.
More Serious Symptoms
The inflammatory process of acute Sjogren's syndrome over time may cause organ damage to the kidneys, liver, pancreas, lungs, thyroid, brain and stomach. Patients may have an increased risk of developing lymphoma, pneumonia, hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious damage to these organs.
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