Sjogren’s syndrome (show-gren’s) is an autoimmune disorder you’ve probably never heard of, but just might know someone with it. It occurs when an inflammatory response triggers the immune system to attack the exocrine glands, which secrete fluids into tissues throughout the body to make things operate smoothly.
Ranging from your eyes and mouth to your entire gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, bladder, liver, lungs, and skin – anything that requires moisture to work well probably has an exocrine gland helping it out. When chronic systemic inflammation causes your immune system to attack exocrine glands, they can’t do their job.
Symptoms and Complications
When the organs served don’t get the fluid they need, more inflammation results there too. The most frequent symptoms are:
- severe dry eyes and mouth
- joint pain and fatigue
- vaginal dryness
Less common complications are:
- disorders of the lungs
- disorders of the kidneys
- disorders of the liver
- disorders of the intestines
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Up to four million Americans have it, many are likely undiagnosed. Diagnosis typically takes years, and sometimes decades, due to symptoms being so varied and difficult to tie together. The stress of living with symptoms but no diagnosis adds a layer of complication to the already frustrating and exhausting symptoms caused by the disorder.
Most symptoms and complications are managed by specialists for each affected body system, and the condition is not considered fatal, despite having no cure. People living with this can range from having barely noticeable symptoms to disability from the impact it has on different body systems. If it sounds like you, ask your doctor about Sjogren’s.
With rheumatic disorders such as Sjogren’s, life can be cumbersome, to say the least. To get a good sense of what it’s like to live with Sjogren’s Syndrome, here’s my description of it in the blog.
Learn more by visiting the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation.