Many people haven’t heard of Sjogren Syndrome, but it is a very serious disorder. Autoimmune in nature, this syndrome is one in which the body’s otherwise healthy immune system reacts to tissue in the body that is meant to produce moisture. This includes salivation in the mouth or crying from tear ducts. This is an inflammatory disease that is chronic, painful, and can cause issues in other parts of the body, as well.
In fact, those suffering from Sjogren Syndrome have also experienced problems with their joints, skin, digestive system, and in extreme cases, the lungs, kidneys, and even nervous system. This autoimmune disorder is an extremely dangerous condition. This one is known for the weird and overly large grouping of lymphocytes (a special type of white blood cell) in the glands that take care of normal fluid production in the body.
Dry mouth and dry eyes are obvious symptoms, and these often strike to a truly extreme extent. Sjogren syndrome heavily affects the quality of moisture that the body produces from those glands, as well as the amount that the body can produce. This specific set of symptoms is referred to on their own as “Sicca Syndrome.” In advanced forms, even the mucus membranes within the body end up incredibly and sometimes dangerously dry.
Imagine feeling like you had sand or dirt in your eyes all the time, feeling like the side of your neck is swollen, having an extremely dry mouth that made even swallowing hard, and that just scratches the surface of issues. That is what life with Sjogren Syndrome is like.
Diagnosing Sjogren Syndrome
This can strike people at any age, although the majority of those who suffer from Sjogren are 40 years old or older, and this is a syndrome that is found in women 90% of the time, with only 10% of the victims being men. However, Sjogren is also found to be the second most common autoimmune disease, right behind lupus. The estimates vary widely because of how hard autoimmune issues are to detect and accurately diagnose, as well as the sheer number of people who don’t regularly see a doctor. Because of this, estimates range from as low as 1 million people up to 4 million people who have some level of Sjogren Syndrome.
Causes are likely to be a combination of genetic and environmental. Whether or not it’s a “trigger” effect that needs an outside influence to kick off the genetics isn’t fully known at this point.
Primary or Secondary?
Reported cases of Sjogren’s tend to be split around 50/50 when it comes to whether the person is suffering from secondary Sjogren or primary Sjogren.
The primary version develops gradually over time and is especially noticeable when it comes to tear glands and salivary glands. These symptoms get worse and worse over time, all without any other obvious or underlying cause of the issues.
When the Sjogren Syndrome is considered secondary, it’s because the person already has an autoimmune disorder of some kind. That means the Sjogren doesn’t stand alone as the main cause of many issues. When there is more than one issue combining with Sjogren, this often leads to more serious issues like tumors and other abnormal growths, infections, lung issues, kidney disease, and more.
These conditions are hard to diagnose in either situation, and many times, it takes up to a full four years for a full confirmation and diagnosis after the first symptoms originally appear, according to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation.
Short List of Common Symptoms
- Dry cough
- Painful dry eye
- Decreased sense of taste
- Extreme dry mouth
- Decreased sense of smell
- Frequent rashes
- Constant fatigue
- Painful swelling in the joints
- General muscle pain
- Frequent soreness in the throat
- Frequent tongue swelling and/or soreness
- Upset stomachs and digestive system
- Recurring bronchitis
Why Testing Is Difficult
Getting a full diagnosis is hard because there isn’t a single test that can give a yay or nay answer. Because of this, it takes multiple combinations of tests to figure out that Sjogren Syndrome might be the root behind the problems. Not all the following tests are needed together, but most likely, it’s a combination of them that will help point towards autoantibodies, and that is how the diagnosis can begin.
Some of the more popular laboratory tests for this include testing for:
Those are extremely specific and focused tests, but there are some more general ones that might be used for confirmation or might be the tests that can point towards a more specific diagnosis or a need for the more specific testing already mentioned. This includes looking for inflammation via C-Reactive Proteins, a general comprehensive metabolic panel, or even an ESR test to look at the erythrocyte sedimentation rate in the body.
Once Sjogren Syndrome is suspected, then you can expect some general blood tests to get confirmation. The combination of general and specific tests is what can get a clearer diagnosis and open the path for the most effective available treatments.