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Patient education: Sjögren's syndrome (The Basics)

Patient education: Sjögren's syndrome (The Basics)

What is Sjögren's syndrome? — Sjögren's syndrome is a disease that causes dry eyes, dry mouth, and other symptoms. It happens when the body's infection-fighting system (called the "immune system") attacks glands that keep the eyes, mouth, and other parts of the body moist.

Some people with Sjögren's syndrome have other immune system conditions. These include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma.

What are the symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome? — The main symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth. Dry eye symptoms can include:

Eyes that feel dry or burn

A sandy or gritty feeling in the eyes

Red or watery eyes

Blurry vision

If you have a dry mouth, you might:

Wake up at night to drink water because your mouth is so dry

Need to drink liquids to help swallow dry foods

Be more likely to get cavities and certain mouth infections

Sjögren's syndrome can also affect other parts of the body. Symptoms can include:

Dry, itchy skin

Joint or muscle pain

Problems urinating, such as:


Urinating more often than usual

Getting up a lot at night to urinate

Needing to urinate suddenly


Vaginal dryness – This can make sex painful.

Will I need tests? — Yes. The doctor or nurse will learn about your symptoms and do an exam. You might also have the following tests:

Eye tests – To check if your eyes are making a normal amount of tears. If not, this could be a sign of Sjögren's syndrome. An eye doctor called an "ophthalmologist" does these tests.

Blood and urine tests – To check for diseases that people with Sjögren's syndrome often have, or other conditions that could be causing symptoms.

A test called a "biopsy" – In this test, a doctor takes a small sample of tissue from inside your lower lip. Another doctor looks at it under a microscope for signs of Sjögren's syndrome.

Imaging tests – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body. They include MRI and ultrasound. Doctors can use these tests to look at the saliva glands in your mouth.

How is Sjögren's syndrome treated? — Dry eye treatments include:

Eye ointments and artificial tears – Your doctor or nurse will help you decide which ones are best for you.

Medicated eye drops – Your doctor might prescribe these if they are right for you. Unlike artificial tears, these contain medicine and are not available without a prescription.

A procedure called "punctal occlusion" – In this procedure, an ophthalmologist puts tiny plugs in the tubes that normally drain tears from the eye. This can help with dry eyes by keeping tears on the eye longer.

Dry mouth treatments include:

Sprays and lozenges

Prescription medicines you take by mouth

Other treatments include:

Medicines to relieve other symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome or problems it can cause. For example, if you have joint pain, you can try ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (sample brand name: Aleve).

Medicines that partly "turn off" the immune system

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. You can:

Sip water, chew sugarless gum, or suck sugar-free candy to help with dry mouth. If you don't like drinking a lot of water, you can rinse your mouth and spit the water out.

Put lip balm on dry lips and moisturizer on dry skin.

Avoid excess air conditioning or heating. Use a humidifier in your bedroom and other places where you spend a lot of time.

Use "moisture chambers" if your doctor or nurse suggests them. Moisture chambers are devices that fit on your glasses. They can help keep your eyes moist (picture 1). You can buy them at most stores that sell glasses.

Brush and floss your teeth after every meal, and see your dentist as often as your doctor or nurse tells you. Dry mouth raises the risk of cavities and some other mouth problems.

What else should I know about Sjögren's syndrome? — If you need surgery, make sure the doctor who gives you anesthesia (called an "anesthesiologist") knows you have Sjögren's syndrome. Having Sjögren's syndrome can increase the risk of certain problems during surgery. Knowing you have Sjögren's syndrome helps doctors do things to lower the risk of problems.

More on this topic

Patient education: Dry eye (The Basics)
Patient education: Fibromyalgia (The Basics)
Patient education: Lupus (The Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis (The Basics)
Patient education: Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) (The Basics)
Patient education: Sex problems in females (The Basics)

Patient education: Fibromyalgia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Insomnia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Sjögren's syndrome (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vaginal dryness (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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