Living with Sjögren’s Syndrome: How to Manage Chronic Dryness and Fatigue

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Blog

What is Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Sjögren’s syndrome, also known as Sjögren’s, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the glands that produce moisture, such as the salivary glands and tear glands. It is characterized by dryness of the eyes, mouth, and other mucous membranes.

How do we diagnose Sjögren’s Syndrome and what antibodies do we look for?

Diagnosing Sjögren’s syndrome involves a combination of clinical assessments, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. A healthcare professional, typically a rheumatologist, will evaluate your symptoms, medical history, and perform specific tests to confirm the diagnosis.

To diagnose Sjögren’s syndrome, the healthcare professional may:

  • Conduct a thorough physical examination: The doctor will examine your eyes, mouth, and other affected areas to look for signs of dryness and inflammation.
  • Review your symptoms: You will be asked about the presence and severity of dryness in your eyes, mouth, nose, throat, and skin, as well as any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
  • Perform specific tests: Blood tests are commonly used to detect certain antibodies associated with Sjögren’s syndrome. The two main antibodies examined are anti-SSA (Ro) and anti-SSB (La) antibodies. Their presence can provide supportive evidence for the diagnosis.
  • Measure saliva and tear production: Specialized tests can assess the quantity and quality of your saliva and tears. This may involve collecting saliva or tears for analysis or using techniques such as the Schirmer’s test to measure tear production.
  • Conduct imaging studies: Imaging tests, such as salivary gland ultrasound or scintigraphy, may be recommended to evaluate the structure and function of the salivary glands.

It’s important to note that not all individuals with Sjögren’s syndrome will test positive for the specific antibodies associated with the condition. Therefore, a diagnosis may still be made based on clinical manifestations and other supportive findings.If you suspect you have Sjögren’s syndrome, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you through the diagnostic process and develop an appropriate treatment plan based on your individual needs.

Can you diagnose Sjögren’s Syndrome with labs that are negative?  

While laboratory tests play a significant role in diagnosing Sjögren’s syndrome, it is important to note that a diagnosis can still be made even if the lab results are negative. Sjögren’s syndrome is a complex autoimmune condition that can present with a variety of symptoms and manifestations.In some cases, individuals may experience symptoms consistent with Sjögren’s syndrome, such as dry eyes and mouth, but may not test positive for the specific antibodies associated with the condition. This is known as Seronegative Sjögren’s syndrome. The diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome relies on a combination of factors, including clinical symptoms, physical examination findings, and other supportive tests. While positive laboratory results for antibodies like anti-SSA (Ro) and anti-SSB (La) can provide valuable evidence for the diagnosis, their absence does not necessarily exclude Sjögren’s syndrome. A healthcare professional, typically a rheumatologist, will consider your overall clinical picture, including symptoms, physical examination findings, and other relevant factors, in making a diagnosis. They may also conduct additional tests, such as assessing saliva and tear production, conducting imaging studies, or evaluating the results of other specialized tests.

It is important to communicate your symptoms and concerns to a healthcare professional who can evaluate your case comprehensively and determine the most appropriate diagnostic approach for you, even if your initial laboratory test results are negative.

What medications can you give to treat Sjögren’s Syndrome?

The treatment of Sjögren’s syndrome aims to alleviate symptoms and manage the underlying autoimmune process. The specific medications prescribed may vary depending on the individual’s symptoms, the severity of the condition, and the organs involved. Here are some commonly used medications for treating Sjögren’s syndrome:

  • Artificial Tears and Lubricating Eye Drops: These help to relieve dryness and discomfort in the eyes caused by decreased tear production.
  • Saliva Substitutes and Mouth Lubricants: These products can help alleviate dry mouth and improve oral comfort.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, may be used to reduce inflammation and relieve pain associated with joint or muscle symptoms.
  • Hydroxychloroquine: This medication is commonly prescribed for autoimmune conditions and may help manage symptoms such as joint pain and fatigue.
  • Immunosuppressants: Medications like methotrexate or azathioprine may be prescribed to suppress the immune system and reduce the inflammatory response in more severe cases of Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Pilocarpine and Cevimeline: These medications stimulate the production of saliva and can be prescribed to manage dry mouth symptoms.
  • Topical Corticosteroids: In cases where local inflammation is present, such as oral or ocular involvement, topical corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms.

It’s important to note that medication choices and dosages should be determined by a healthcare professional, typically a rheumatologist or an ophthalmologist, based on individual needs and medical history. Regular follow-up appointments are important to monitor the effectiveness of the medications and adjust the treatment plan as needed. 

What lifestyle changes help with Sjögren’s Syndrome?

In addition to medication, making certain lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome. Here are some lifestyle adjustments that may be beneficial:

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to combat dryness, both in the eyes and mouth. Sipping water frequently can help alleviate dryness and maintain hydration.
  • Use Humidifiers: Consider using humidifiers in your home, especially in your bedroom, to increase moisture in the air and help relieve dryness of the eyes, mouth, and throat.
  • Practice Good Oral Hygiene: Maintain proper oral hygiene by brushing your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Regular dental check-ups are important to monitor and address any oral health issues.
  • Eye Care: Use artificial tears or lubricating eye drops recommended by your eye care professional to help relieve dryness and protect your eyes. Avoid smoke, wind, and other irritants that may worsen eye symptoms.
  • Protect Your Joints: Engage in gentle exercises and stretching to improve joint mobility and flexibility. Avoid excessive stress on your joints and use joint protection techniques, such as using ergonomic tools and modifying activities that may strain the joints.
  • Manage Stress: Stress can exacerbate symptoms, so finding healthy ways to manage stress is important. Consider relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.
  • Balanced Diet: Eat a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients to support overall health. Including foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish or flaxseeds, may help reduce inflammation. Avoid foods that may exacerbate symptoms, such as spicy or acidic foods that may irritate the mouth.
  • Eye Protection: Wear sunglasses and use protective eyewear when exposed to sunlight, wind, or other environmental factors that may worsen eye dryness and sensitivity.

It’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider, such as a rheumatologist or ophthalmologist, who can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your specific needs and circumstances. They can help tailor lifestyle recommendations to suit your individual situation and provide ongoing support in managing Sjögren’s syndrome.

What supplements can be used to treat Sjögren’s Syndrome?

While there is no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, certain supplements may help alleviate symptoms and support overall health. However, it’s important to note that supplements should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Here are some supplements that may be beneficial:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 supplements, derived from fish oil or algae, are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. They may help reduce inflammation and support overall joint and eye health.
  • Vitamin D: Many people with Sjögren’s syndrome have low vitamin D levels. Supplementing with vitamin D may help support bone health and immune function. However, it’s essential to have your vitamin D levels tested and consult with your healthcare provider for appropriate dosage recommendations.
  • B-complex Vitamins: B vitamins, including B12 and folate, are essential for maintaining healthy nerve function and energy levels. They may help combat fatigue and support overall well-being.
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help boost the immune system and support tissue health. It may aid in managing oral health and reducing the severity of oral symptoms.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiome. They may help support immune function and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms that can occur in Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant that plays a role in cell energy production. It may help alleviate fatigue and support overall cellular health.

It’s important to discuss these supplements with your healthcare provider before incorporating them into your routine. They can assess your individual needs, consider any potential interactions with medications, and provide appropriate dosage recommendations. Remember, supplements should complement a healthy lifestyle and medical treatment, but they should not replace prescribed medications or other therapies for managing Sjögren’s syndrome.

What other diagnoses can mimic Sjögren’s Syndrome?

Several conditions can mimic the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome, leading to potential misdiagnosis or overlap in symptoms. It’s crucial to consider these conditions during the diagnostic process. Some of the diagnoses that can mimic Sjögren’s syndrome include:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): SLE is an autoimmune disease that can cause similar symptoms to Sjögren’s syndrome, such as joint pain, fatigue, and dry eyes or mouth.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA is another autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints but can also involve dryness of the eyes and mouth, resembling Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): MS is a neurological condition that can share symptoms with Sjögren’s syndrome, including fatigue, muscle weakness, and sensory disturbances.
  • Thyroid disorders: Conditions like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can present with dry eyes, dry mouth, and fatigue, overlapping with Sjögren’s syndrome symptoms.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): CFS is characterized by persistent fatigue that is not relieved by rest and can be accompanied by symptoms like joint pain, muscle aches, and cognitive difficulties, which can resemble Sjögren’s syndrome.
  • Medication-induced dryness: Certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications, can cause dryness of the eyes and mouth, mimicking the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome.

These are just a few examples, and there are other conditions that can have similar symptoms. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, typically a rheumatologist or an experienced healthcare provider, who can carefully evaluate your symptoms, perform appropriate tests, and consider various factors to make an accurate diagnosis and differentiate Sjögren’s syndrome from other potential conditions.

Autoimmune diseases teach us a profound lesson about the complexity of our own bodies. In their mystery lies an invitation to explore the intricate interaction between our immune system and our sense of self, reminding us that understanding and compassion are the greatest allies in the journey of healing.

1 Comment

  1. Maly

    This is very useful information related to Sjogren Syndrome.

    I was diagnosted o Nov2010 since that time My life was dificult or imposible sometimes.


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