Sjogren’s syndrome (Sjögren’s syndrome) is an autoimmune disorder. Sjogren’s, which is phonetically pronounced as “show-grins”, is most commonly identified by its two most obviously prominent symptoms: dry mouth and dry eyes. The dryness stems from the fact that the glands that secrete moisture and the mucous membranes of the eyes and mouth are often the first parts of the body to be affected. Other symptoms include joint pain, swollen salivary glands, rashes and dry skin, a persistent and dry cough, and prolonged fatigue. Further complications could occur as a result of the disorder, such as the development of dental cavities due to the reduction in saliva, oral thrush, a yeast infection which develops in the mouth, and sensitivity to light and corneal damage that lead to vision problems. More seriously but also rarer occurrences are problems with kidney function, cancer of the lymph nodes, and peripheral neuropathy, which is something that might heavily affect the nerves in extremities and appendages. Other conditions that cause the immune system to attack itself, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are often accompanied by Sjogren’s. Though the exact cause of the syndrome is not certain, there are certain conditions that put some patients at a higher risk for developing the disorder, such as having certain genes or developing an infection with a particular strain of bacteria or virus. Other potential risk factors include age, with the syndrome usually being diagnosed in people who are older than forty, and sex, as females are more likely to have Sjogren’s.1 Unfortunately, it is very common for Sjogren’s to be misdiagnosed or overlooked for an average of three years. The disorder’s symptoms mimic those of other conditions and symptoms, which is why it is important that patients always remember to keep up clear communication with their healthcare providers to catch abnormal symptoms early. The sooner the syndrome is caught, the less serious complications and damage will be able to plague the patient.2
Traditional Treatment Options
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome. However, there are treatment options available to patients who suffer from the disorder that will help to alleviate their symptoms. Rheumatologists are specialists that are more likely to properly diagnose the syndrome, as they are specialists in musculoskeletal disorders, and they might also provide patients with treatment options. For dry eyes, artificial tears are prescribed to be applied regularly to reduce inflammation and increase tear production. For dry mouth, regularly drinking water, chewing gum, or using saliva substitutes could relieve the dryness. Prescription medications are used to stimulate the flow of saliva. Consistent dental care and hygiene are very important for anyone, but they are especially crucial for those with dry mouth. The previously mentioned possible yeast infections can be treated with anti-fungal therapies. For nasal dryness, humidifiers and nasal saline irrigation are recommended. Joint pain and rash could be reduced through the use of the same antimalarial drug that is used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis: hydroxychloroquine. Corticosteroids or immunosuppressive agents are prescribed for more serious but rare symptoms like lung or kidney problems and fever. Patients should remember to be aware of their body’s condition and make note of any unusual swelling of the glands that are located “around the face or neck, under the arms, or in the groin areas” because the abnormal swelling could be a sign of lymphoma.3
Treatment Through Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Where possible, patients might choose to try a more natural way of treating the symptoms of their Sjogren’s syndrome. Patients might find that following a low-protein, high carbohydrate diet with the elimination of milk, dairy products, and at least a minimal consumption of animal products could help. They should also try to avoid polyunsaturated oils, like vegetable oils, and hydrogenated fats, like margarine. Foods that reduce inflammation are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and include such things as walnuts, dark, leafy greens, ground flaxseeds, and some types of fish. The inclusion of ginger and turmeric in meals can also be beneficial as they also naturally have anti-inflammatory effects. Regular aerobic exercise is important. Those who suffer from joint problems might try swimming, as it is easier on the painful areas while also being an effective, whole body exercise. Some patients might even find that traditional Chinese medicine treatments, like acupuncture, work for them.4 Massage can be a very relaxing experience and something that can benefit those who suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome. Patients need to communicate with their massage therapist and primary care physician about how severe their condition is, as a lighter, more relaxation-focused massage is better for patients who are experiencing flare-ups without exacerbating symptoms. More rigorous types of body work, like deep tissue massage, can be safe during times of remission. Gentle face massage can also help. Further research is still needed to find out just how effective massage is for Sjogren’s syndrome, though it appears that moderate massage is helpful in stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to relieve pain, anxiety, and increase blood flow.5 There are almost always potential side effects when taking medication, and patients should definitely take into consideration those treatment options which come without side effects before turning to such things as medications.