Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren's Syndrome is an immune system disorder that is most commonly identified by dry eyes and a dry mouth. About half of the people diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome are often diagnosed another autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.


Watch: Dr. Sara McCoy discusses the UW Health Sjogren's Syndrome Clinic



What is Sjogren's Syndrome?


Sjogren's (pronounced SHOW-grins) syndrome is a disease caused by over activity of the immune system, leading to inflammation of the glands that make tears and saliva. Inflammation of those glands can lead to symptoms of dry eyes and mouth. Other symptoms such as general fatigue, skin and vaginal dryness are also common. Although less common, Sjogren's syndrome can also involve the lung, brain, skin, joints, gastrointestinal tract, blood and kidneys.


Sjogren's syndrome can occur in anyone, at any time, but is more common in women that are around menopause age.


What are common symptoms of Sjogren's Syndrome?

  • Dry eyes: Daily persistent dry eye (may feel gritty/sandy) and may need to use eye drops regularly
  • Dry mouth: Daily persistent dry mouth. May need to wake up at nighttime to drink fluid and requiring sips of liquid to swallow dry foods
  • Cavities: Recurrent cavities despite taking care of your teeth and visiting the dentist
  • Thrush: A white plaque or redness of the tongue that can cause burning or change in taste
  • Gland swelling: Swelling of the glands in your face and neck
  • Other symptoms may depend upon what organs have been involved (i.e. lungs, kidney, liver, nerves, etc.)

Tips for managing Sjogren's Syndrome


Why do people develop Sjogren's Syndrome?


The exact cause of Sjogren's syndrome is unknown. Doctors believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors lead to the development of Sjogren's syndrome. The exact environmental factors that trigger Sjogren's syndrome are also unknown but may include infection, likes viruses or bacteria, or hormones.


How is Sjogren's Syndrome diagnosed?


Doctors commonly diagnose Sjogren's syndrome using the following measures:

  1. Measurement of tear and saliva production
  2. The presence of specific antibodies that can be seen in Sjogren's syndrome (anti-SSA/Ro antibody)
  3. Inflammation of the glands of the lower lip

How can I prepare for my visit?

  • Be prepared to discuss your symptoms, past medical history, past surgical history and current medications (including over the counter medicines)
  • You may be asked about a history of head/neck radiation, hepatitis C, HIV, cancer or cataract/eye surgery.
  • Do not eat or drink anything on the morning of your first visit because your doctor may order/perform tests requiring that you have not eaten
  • If you are taking treatment for dry eye (eye drops) or mouth (things to make more saliva), stop the week before your visit

What should I expect at my visit?

  • Your doctor may perform a test to measure eye wetness. This is called a Schirmer's test. You may need to visit an eye doctor for further specialized dry eyes testing
  • Your doctor may perform a test to measure saliva production. This is called a salivary flow test.
  • Blood Tests: Measures of blood counts, Sjogren's related antibodies, blood proteins, kidney and liver tests and evidence of other diseases of the immune systems
  • Imaging: You may be given an ultrasound, a sialogram (type of x-ray) or an MRI to look at the glands of your head and neck
  • Minor Salivary Gland Biopsy: Your doctor may want to perform a biopsy of your lip to obtain minor salivary glands. These glands are evaluated through a microscope to assess for inflammation. The minor salivary gland can be used as part of the diagnosis of Sjogren's syndrome and can also be used as a tool to predict how severe the Sjogren's syndrome may become in an individual patient.

How is Sjogren's Syndrome treated?


Treatment of Sjogren's syndrome is primarily targeted at improving symptoms of dry eye and dry mouth. Various treatment modalities, including use of barriers, wetting agents and prescription medications, may be used. Tips for managing Sjogren's Syndrome




Dr. McCoy established a Sjogren's syndrome clinic at the University of Wisconsin in 2016. She is currently performing research on Sjogren's syndrome and fibromyalgia. She is also studying Sjogren's patients who have a negative blood test (anti-SSA antibody) but a positive lip biopsy. She is working on establishing a Sjogren's syndrome registry.


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