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Sjögren's syndrome

AGE  Most common between the ages of 40 and 60, but may occur at any ageGENDER  More common in females
LIFESTYLE  Not a significant factorGENETICS  Sometimes runs in families

Damage to glands, including the tear and salivary glands, causing dryness of the eyes and mouth.

Sjögren's syndrome
© DK
The salivary glands become inflamed in SjÖgren's syndrome, preventing normal saliva production. As a result, the mouth and the tongue become very dry.

Sjögren's syndrome is a lifelong disorder in which damage to the tear and salivary glands causes the eyes and mouth to become very dry. Glands that lubricate the skin, nasal cavity, throat, and vagina may also be affected.

The syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which gland tissues are attacked by the body's own antibodies and become inflamed and damaged. The cause is not known, but genetic factors may play a role. The condition is nine times more common in women and usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 60.

The main symptoms usually develop over several years and include gritty, red, dry eyes and dry mouth. Lack of saliva often leads to difficulty swallowing dry foods and to dental problems (see Dental caries). Some people develop joint problems similar to rheumatoid arthritis.

What might be done?

Your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis from your symptoms and an examination. He or she may arrange for blood tests to look for antibodies. You may also need to have tests to measure the quantity of tears your eyes produce, and a small sample of tissue may be removed from your salivary glands to look for damaged cells.

There is no cure for this disorder, but symptoms can be controlled, usually with lifelong treatment. Artificial tears may be prescribed or, occasionally, tear ducts will be plugged by an ophthalmologist to decrease tear drainage. You will be advised to drink plenty of liquids and to visit your dentist regularly. If symptoms are severe, a corticosteroid, an immunosuppressant, or the drug hydroxychloroquine (see Antimalarial drugs) may be given to reduce the inflammation.

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