What is Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is a medical condition which is also considered an autoimmune disease. It is brought about by an attack of the body's immune system into its own cells. In this particular medical condition, the immune system attacks the glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands. This in turn can have various effects such as inflammation of the glands and reduction of tear and saliva production. These changes cause the main symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome which is dry mouth and dry eyes. In women there may be dryness of the vagina, making it prone to infections.
Sjogren’s syndrome can present with various symptoms such as dry mouth and dry eyes especially in older people. In affected women, there may dryness of the vagina which can give rise to painful intercourse. Along with dryness of mouth, there may be tooth decay, tooth loss, dry cough, difficulty swallowing and chewing, hoarse voice, difficulty speaking, swollen salivary glands, repeated fungal infections of the mouth, and coated or white tongue. Dry eyes can be accompanied by a burning or stinging sensation in your eyes, itchy eyes, a sandy feeling in your eyes, irritated and swollen eyelids, sensitivity to light or photophobia, tired eyes and mucus discharge from the eyes. Symptoms can worsen upon exposure to a windy or smoky environment. Other symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include dry skin, tiredness and fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain, stiffness and swelling, vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) and difficulty in concentrating, remembering and reasoning.
Sjogren’s syndrome is either classified as primary or secondary. Primary Sjogren’s syndrome usually develops by itself and not as the result of another condition while secondary Sjogren’s syndrome usually develops in combination with another autoimmune condition, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
The cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is still unknown however some experts attribute it to genetic, environmental and possibly hormonal factors. There are some people who are at high risk for this condition. Primary Sjogren's syndrome is usually triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some people are born with genes which make them vulnerable to this condition. Estrogen as a female hormone can also be a factor because Sjogren’s syndrome is common among women and this condition usually starts at the time of menopause when there are low levels of estrogen in the body. Falling estrogen levels can also contribute to dryness. On teh other hand, secondary Sjogren's syndrome can occur later in the course of other autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Sjogren’s syndrome usually affects women within the age range of 40-60 years old. In the early stages, this medical condition may present with vague symptoms so that early diagnosis may be difficult. Some complications of Sjogren’s syndrome include the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma which is a cancer of the lymph glands, giving birth to children with lupus or heart abnormalities and others.
Sjogren’s Syndrome and Heart Attacks
A recent study presented at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2014) has shown that patients with Sjogren’s syndrome may have an increased risk for heart attacks particularly in the first year following diagnosis. There was also a trend towards an increased risk for stroke. According to the researchers, this is the first general population-based cohort study comparing the relative risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients with new Sjogren’s syndrome with age, sex, and entry-matched controls. They concluded that inflammation as what is behind Sjogren’s syndrome is responsible for the development of cardiovascular diseases and that there is a need for increased monitoring for coronary artery disease in all patients with Sjogren’s syndrome.
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