Sjögren’s syndrome: chronic inflammation of the glands

Sjögren’s syndrome involves chronic inflammation of glands in the body, especially the tear and salivary glands. The biggest complaints are dry mouth and dry eyes. In addition, skin complaints, fatigue and joint complaints are also common complaints. Once the complaints are there, they persist. They can be mitigated under certain circumstances. What does Sjögren’s syndrome mean and what exactly can you do about it?

What Sjögren’s syndrome entails

The disease is named after the Swedish ophthalmologist Sjögren, who described it in 1933. In this condition, glands become chronically inflamed, especially the tear and salivary glands. As a result, dry eyes and a dry mouth occur because the glands function less well. Fatigue and joint complaints also often occur. Because these inflammations are chronic, they do not go away. The joint complaints can vary from mild to very serious.

Who gets it?

This condition probably affects 1 in 1,000 people. The exact number is not known. It is thought by some experts to be an autoimmune disease. This means that the body starts to see its own cells as foreign cells, which activates the immune system against its own body. Heredity may play a role, but that is not yet certain. It can occur at any age, but it is most common between the ages of 30 and 60. In men, it is about 10 times more common in women.

Complaints

The most common complaints with Sjögren’s syndrome are: dry eyes, dry mouth, dry skin and a dry vagina. Dry skin can cause broken lips, torn corners of the mouth, burning sensation in the mouth, coughing, loss of taste, tooth decay and swollen eye and salivary glands. As a result of this disease, complaints can also arise in the internal organs, such as bladder infections or problems with the esophagus. Raynaud’s condition can also be a consequence. This means that the blood vessels in the fingers and toes react violently to cold, causing white fingers and toes. Furthermore, people with this condition often experience severe fatigue. Because eye and mouth complaints, as well as skin complaints, are the most common, these will be described in more detail:

Dry eyes

If the tear glands are inflamed, less tear fluid is produced. This causes dry and irritated eyes. It can itch and it feels like there is a grain of sand in the eye. The outer protective layer of the eye, the cornea, becomes rough and therefore the eyes can become very sensitive to light, dust, air conditioning and cigarette smoke. This can make wearing contact lenses impossible. The cornea can become damaged and the inflammation can cause the tear gland to swell considerably, causing the upper eyelid to become thick.

Dry mouth

Due to the inflamed salivary glands, saliva production decreases. This causes unpleasant complaints such as a dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, difficulty speaking and coughing. While eating, it is often necessary to drink in order to swallow the food. The tongue may stick to the roof of the mouth, especially when waking up. Because the protective function of saliva is reduced, the risk of tooth decay is much greater. There is also a greater chance of contracting a fungal infection. The salivary glands can swell, giving you plumper cheeks.

Dry skin and a dry vagina

The inflammation can cause glands in the skin and vagina to function less well. This causes dry skin in these places. This causes the skin to become flaky and it may become itchy. The vagina is at greater risk of contracting a yeast infection. A dry vagina causes pain and this can cause problems during sex and inserting a tampon.

Diagnosis

If you come to the doctor with dry eyes, dry mouth, fatigue in combination with muscle and joint complaints, the doctor may suspect this disease. Additional examination, such as a physical examination and a blood test, will show whether the patient has Sjögren’s syndrome. Additional examination can be done by a rheumatologist, ophthalmologist or internist. A dentist may find that too little saliva is produced and that there is tooth decay or a fungal infection. There is no specific test to detect this disease. The diagnosis is made on the basis of data from various tests.

Therapy

The symptoms of this condition are usually persistent. The complaints that arise in the first years will continue to exist. The extent to which the complaints occur will vary. Over time, the complaints can spread. Unfortunately, Sjögren’s syndrome cannot currently be cured. However, treatment can take place to alleviate the complaints. It is important to stay in the best possible condition, so that complaints are kept to a minimum. Because everyone’s symptoms are different, the patient remains under the care of a doctor or several doctors. Because another autoimmune disease can develop with this disease, regular monitoring is important.

Tips

Drinking small sips of water or chewing gum regularly will relieve dry mouth. Try to breathe through your nose as much as possible so that the mouth dries out less quickly. You can use artificial tears to combat dry eyes. Do this in consultation with your doctor or ophthalmologist. Keep teeth clean with fluoride toothpaste, use mouthwash with fluoride to protect teeth against tooth decay. Visit the dentist regularly for check-ups. Treat dry skin with greasy ointment or body lotion, don’t shower for too long and, if necessary, install a humidifier in the house.

Effects on fertility

A woman with Sjögren’s syndrome can simply become pregnant. Usually it does not affect fertility and the course of pregnancy. The gynecologist will perform an examination at least once during pregnancy. Heredity plays a small role. It is wise to discuss your wish to have children with a doctor in advance, because of possible joint complaints and other complaints. During pregnancy it is usually better not to take any medications.

Scroll to Top