Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, July 2011.
This factsheet is for people who have Sjögren’s syndrome, or who would like information about it.
Sjögren’s syndrome (pronounced Shurgren's syndrome) is a disorder characterised by damage to the secretory glands (the glands that produce secretions such as tears and saliva).
Sjögren’s syndrome mainly affects your eyes and mouth causing them to become dry, but rarely it can affect other organs as well. This syndrome is an example of an autoimmune disease. This is a condition in which your immune system, which usually protects you against infections from bacteria and viruses, attacks healthy tissues and organs instead. These tissues become damaged and inflamed. In Sjögren’s syndrome, your immune system attacks the secretory glands, such as the tear glands in your eyes and the salivary glands in your mouth, reducing the amount of secretions they produce.
It is thought that there are at least half a million people with Sjögren’s syndrome in the UK. However, there could be many more, as many people don't seek medical help for their symptoms.
Sjögren’s syndrome is most common in women, with nine times as many women having the syndrome as men. It mostly affects women between the ages of 40 and 60 and rarely affects children.
Sjögren’s syndrome can occur on its own (primary Sjögren’s syndrome) or secondary to other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus (secondary Sjögren’s syndrome).
The symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome are the same for both primary and secondary Sjögren’s syndrome.
The two main symptoms are:
These may be the only symptoms you get if you have Sjögren’s syndrome. However, the syndrome can sometimes cause additional symptoms such as:
Sjögren’s syndrome can sometimes be associated with more serious problems. These are rare but may include any of the following.
At the moment, the exact reasons why you may develop Sjögren’s syndrome aren’t known. However, it may be linked to infection from a virus, such as Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever. It is thought that the response of the immune system to attack your own organs may be triggered by a virus infecting your body. More research is needed to find out if this is the case.
There may also be genetic factors that make you less able to fight off infections and more likely to develop the condition.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
Your GP may refer you to another doctor or health professional for further tests. Depending on your symptoms, this may be:
You may have any of the following tests to check for symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome.
There are a number of treatments that can help to relieve the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, even though there is no cure for the condition.
There are many things you can do yourself to help control your symptoms.
If you have dry, irritable or sore eyes, your GP will probably suggest using eye drops or ointments. You may need to use these several times a day. There are many different types of eye drops. Some are only available with a prescription from your GP, others can be bought from a pharmacy. Your GP or pharmacist can advise you which is most suitable for you.
If you have a dry mouth, your GP may recommend trying artificial saliva. Artificial saliva can come in the form of a mouth spray, gels or lozenges. Some products also contain fluoride.
If you get ulcers in your mouth, your GP may prescribe an ointment to apply to the ulcers. If you get a fungal infection in your mouth, your GP may prescribe an antifungal medicine such as miconazole oral gel.
Your specialist may prescribe a medicine called pilocarpine. This stimulates saliva and tear production. This medicine may not work for all people with Sjögren’s syndrome and you may find that side-effects prevent you from taking it. You may need to try this medicine for a number of weeks before you notice any improvement.
You may need to take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for painful joints associated with the syndrome. Antiarthritis drugs such as hydroxychloroquine are also helpful for arthritis and fatigue in Sjögren’s syndrome and may also slow the progression of the condition.
If your eyes are very dry, an ophthalmologist may sometimes suggest you have a minor procedure called punctal occlusion, to plug the tear ducts that drain tears from your eyes. This can help to keep your eyes moist.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
Publication date: July 2011