What is Sjögren’s disease?

Your body’s immune system fights off disease and infection. But if your immune system is overactive, it can lead to problems. Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) disease is one condition linked to an overactive immune system.


All of your care in one location

UW Health Sjögren’s Disease Clinic in Madison, Wis., offers diagnostic tests and treatment in one location.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Sjögren’s disease basics

Sjögren’s disease is an autoimmune disorder. Problems with your immune system cause autoimmune disorders. About half of people with Sjögren’s disease have another autoimmune disorder.

People with Sjögren’s disease develop inflammation in the glands that produce tears and saliva. This inflammation leads to dry eyes and dry mouth.

Common Sjögren’s disease symptoms include:

  • Dry eyes

  • Dry mouth

  • Recurring cavities 

  • Skin dryness

  • Swollen glands

  • Thrush

  • Tiredness 

  • Vaginal dryness 

Sjögren’s disease affects each person differently. In more severe cases, Sjögren’s disease can cause damage to internal organs and joints. Your doctor will check for symptoms of more severe Sjögren’s disease.  

Diagnosing Sjögren’s disease

Doctors at UW Health perform many tests to diagnose Sjögren’s disease. These tests are all performed within our Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic. Diagnostic tests include:

Treatments and research

Understanding and treating Sjögren’s disease

There is no cure for Sjögren's disease, but we can help manage your symptoms. Your doctor will talk to you about ways to manage your symptoms as well as medical treatments.

Medical treatments for Sjögren's disease include:

  • Over-the-counter artificial tears

  • Over-the-counter gels and ointments for dry eyes

  • Over-the-counter sprays and gels for dry sinuses

  • Prescription drugs for dry eyes and dry mouth

  • Topical hormones for vaginal dryness

Some people with Sjögren’s disease benefit from tear duct surgery. This procedure can relieve dry eyes. You and your doctor will determine if this is right for you.

Sjögren’s disease research

Experts at UW Health want to know more about Sjögren’s disease. To do this, we conduct research in order to learn more about Sjögren’s disease to develop new treatments. We're currently studying:

  • Sjögren’s disease and mesenchymal stromal cells (e.g. stem cells)

  • Discover new autoantibody targets to improve diagnosis and treatment of Sjögren’s disease

  • Study the role of sex hormones in Sjögren’s disease

To gather even more information about Sjögren’s disease, we are building a patient registry. Patient registries allow doctors to track the success of treatments.

Meet our team

Experts in your corner

The UW Health Sjögren’s Disease Clinic is led by rheumatologist Dr. Sara McCoy, who has unique expertise in Sjögren’s disease diagnosis and treatment.

Patient and support services

Get the support you need

Managing Sjögren’s disease

Many symptoms of Sjögren’s disease can be managed with simple lifestyle changes. Learn tips to manage Sjögren’s

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 might be asked about a history of head/neck radiation, hepatitis C, HIV, cancer or cataract/eye surgery

  • Do not eat or drink anything but sips of water 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 day before your visit

What should I expect during my visit?

  • Your doctor might perform a test to measure eye wetness. This is called a Schirmer's test. You might need to visit an eye doctor for further specialized dry eye testing.

  • Your doctor might perform a test to measure saliva production. This is called a salivary flow test.

  • Blood tests: Measures of blood counts, Sjögren's-related antibodies, blood proteins, kidney and liver tests and evidence of other diseases of the immune systems.

  • Imaging: You might be given an ultrasound, a sialogram (a type of X-ray) or an MRI to look at the glands of your head and neck.

  • Minor salivary gland biopsy: Your doctor might 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 Sjögren's disease and can also be used as a tool to predict how severe the Sjögren's disease might become in an individual patient.