Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Today, as many as four million Americans are living with this disease.
Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
With upwards of 4,000,000 Americans suffering from Sjögren’s syndrome, it is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders. Nine out of 10 patients are women.
About half of the time Sjögren’s syndrome occurs alone, and the other half it occurs in the presence of another autoimmune connective tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. When Sjögren’s occurs alone, it is referred to as “Primary Sjögren’s.” When it occurs with another connective tissue disease, it is referred to as “Secondary Sjögren’s.”
All instances of Sjögren’s syndrome are systemic, affecting the entire body. Symptoms may remain steady, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. While some people experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their functioning. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important — they may prevent serious complications and greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
Since symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome mimic other conditions and diseases, Sjögren’s can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed. On average, it takes nearly seven years to receive a diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome. Patients need to remember to be pro-active in talking with their physicians and dentists about their symptoms and potential treatment options.
Since the disease was first identified in 1933 by Dr. Henrik Sjögren, it has been proven to affect virtually every racial and ethnic group. General awareness about Sjögren’s syndrome is still lacking and increased professional awareness is needed to help expedite new diagnoses and treatment options.
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