Sjogren’s syndrome is named after Swedish eye doctor Dr Henrik Sjogren who first identified it in 1933. It is classified as primary when it occurs on its own, and secondary when it occurs along with another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Typically, Sjogren’s syndrome affects more women than men, and most patients are over the age of 40.

“As the symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome can mimic other conditions, proper diagnosis and treatment are often delayed. Although there is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, treatments are available to alleviate the symptoms and to prevent complications,” says Dr Chew Li-Ching, Senior Consultant, from the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

On the other hand, the classical symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome (eye and mouth dryness) are common and can also occur in healthy people without Sjogren’s syndrome, especially in older individuals. Therefore, it is important to determine if there are medications or other conditions causing dryness.

Sjogren’s syndrome causes

The exact cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is unknown. Both genetic and hormonal factors play a role. Exposure to certain environmental triggers, such as viral infections, may also trigger the disorder.

Sjogren’s syndrome symptoms

The symptoms can be mild to severe. The two main symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome are:

  • Dry eyes: Unusual dryness with or without a burning, itchy, gritty sensation; mild blurring and light sensitivity; mucus discharge from eyes; swollen eyelids.
  • Dry mouth: Dry, sticky, burning sensation; difficulty talking, chewing food and swallowing; dry cough.

Patients can also present with the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain, muscle pain
  • Swollen saliva glands between the jaw and ears
  • Dental cavities
  • Fungal infection in the mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Extreme fatigue

Complications of Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is rarely life-threatening, but in patients presenting with the more severe disease, affecting organ systems such as the lung, heart, kidney, liver, and nerves, complications can develop if treatment is delayed or inadequate. These complications include the following:

  • Nerve damage in hands and feet causing loss of sensation (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Blindness due to untreated corneal ulcers
  • Interstitial pneumonitis and other lung problems
  • Cancer of the lymphatic system (lymphoma)
  • Anaemia, low white blood count or platelet count
  • Kidney disorders (interstitial nephritis)

Read on to learn how Sjogren'​s Syndrome is diagnosed and its treatme​​nt options.

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