Dry Eyes? Dry Mouth? Perhaps It's Sjogren's Syndrome
Although it was first identified in 1933, Sjögren’s syndrome – an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body – is hardly a household term. Pronounced “SHOW-grins”, this disease is frequently associated with dry eyes and a dry mouth, although symptoms may also include profound fatigue, chronic pain or impact to major organs. Moreover, many of those diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome have features of other autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Incredibly, about 90 percent of those with Sjögren’s are women. Symptoms typically begin around the time of menopause.
“Because dry eyes and dry mouth are strong indicators,” says Sara McCoy, MD, a UW Health rheumatologist who specializes in caring for Sjögren’s patients, “an eye doctor or dentist will often be the first to suggest the possibility of Sjögren’s. A simple blood test can often indicate whether someone has Sjögren’s, and many of our referrals come in this way.”
Severity of Sjögren’s Varies with Each Patient
Dr. McCoy says the severity of Sjögren’s varies with each patient.
“Similar to what lupus patients experience, those with Sjögren’s can have mild, moderate or severe symptoms,” says Dr. McCoy. “Moreover, because there is no cure for Sjögren’s, patients live with this disease for a long time, which allows patients to develop long-lasting relationships with their physician.”
Despite the lack of a cure, Dr. McCoy says proper treatment of Sjögren’s symptoms can make a real difference in the quality of life for patients.
“We have many tools available to help manage the symptoms,” says Dr. McCoy. “For example, we often focus on improving dry mouth, because the lack of normal saliva flow puts patients at a higher risk for getting cavities. Saliva helps keep the mouth healthy and prevents bacterial infections.”
Tips for Managing Sjogren’s Syndrome
Dr. McCoy offers many suggestions for managing Sjögren’s syndrome, organized by symptom.
“Whether someone has dry eyes, dry mouth, trouble swallowing, salivary gland swelling or other symptoms, there are so many ways people can improve their quality of life. I encourage all of my patients to review my list of tips for managing Sjogren’s syndrome.”
Sjögren's Clinic is a One-Stop Shop
UW Health patients are fortunate to have access to Dr. McCoy, one of very few Sjögren’s syndrome experts in the country. Many of her patients travel to Madison from several hours away.
“A unique feature we offer is a one-stop shop approach, allowing patients to have all of their testing done in a single visit with me, rather than having to schedule multiple appointments with several specialists.”
Dr. McCoy’s Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic is located at the UW Health West Clinic, 451 Junction Road, Madison, WI 53717. More information, including a short video featuring Dr. McCoy discussing Sjögren’s, can be viewed online at uwhealth.org/sjogrens, by calling (608) 263-7577 or (800) 323-8942.
Think You Might Have Sjögren’s? Ask Your Doctor
If you think there is a possibility that you may have Sjögren’s, ask your primary care physician, eye doctor or dentist about Sjögren’s syndrome and whether the anti-SSA/Ro antibody blood test might be appropriate for you.
Your physician can always speak with Dr. McCoy about a possible referral to her Sjögren’s Syndrome Clinic by calling the UW Health Access Center at (800) 472-0111.
UW Health West Clinic
451 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717
(608) 263-7577 or (800) 323-8942
Date Published: 12/18/2018