Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder affecting approximately three million Americans as of 2009. While both men and women of any age may be diagnosed with Sjogren's, it is most common in women over 40. Primary Sjogren's syndrome occurs by itself in 50 per cent of sufferers. Secondary Sjogren's syndrome occurs in conjunction with another autoimmune disorder, usually lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Sjogren's sometimes runs in families. Although the symptoms of Sjogren's can be roughly divided into three stages, not every person diagnosed with the disease will experience each stage.
Stage I of Sjogren's Syndrome affects your salivary glands and tear ducts. Reduced saliva causes your mouth to be dry, which can make speaking and eating difficult. It can also cause dental problems and oral infections. Reduced tearing makes your eyes feel dry and gritty. You may also experience sensitivity to light and a feeling of eye fatigue or strain. Your senses of smell and taste are also affected, and you may have muscle aches, joint pain, sleep disorders and fatigue. If you are like 45 per cent of Sjogren's patients, your disease will remain in Stage I.
In Stage II of Sjogren's, you continue to experience the symptoms of Stage I, but the chronic inflammation that characterises Sjogren's may begin to damage the lungs, kidneys, liver, blood vessels and skin. Bronchial issues, urinary tract infections, nerve problems, reduction in blood cells, inflamed blood vessels and skin discolouration are also seen in Stage II. Roughly half of patients diagnosed with Sjogren's will experience this stage.
In the Stage III, which affects approximately 5 per cent of patients, cancers of the lymph system may develop. The most frequently diagnosed is non-Hodgkin's B-cell lymphoma, seen in 44 per cent of patients.
There are many tests to help your doctor diagnose Sjogren's. She may order several different kinds of blood tests to see if there are signs of inflammation or to detect antibodies that develop in response to Sjogren's. Eye tests and diagnostic imaging tests are also helpful diagnostic tools. Your doctor may also biopsy the salivary glands in your lip, or she may take samples of your saliva and urine.
Some patients in Stage I of Sjogren's are able to manage very well by using eye drops and always having water handy. If those remedies don't work, or if you and your doctor choose to treat the condition more aggressively, your doctor may prescribe drugs to stimulate production of saliva, to reduce inflammation and even to suppress the immune system. Certain types of surgery are also available.
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