Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's (pronounced show-grin's) syndrome is a condition that affects parts of the body that produce fluids like tears and spit (saliva).

It usually starts in people aged 40 to 60 and is much more common in women than men.

It's a long-term condition that can affect your daily life, but there are treatments to help relieve the symptoms.

Symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome

Symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome include:

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When to see a GP

See a GP if you have symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome that do not go away or are bothering you.

There are many things that can cause similar symptoms. Your GP can check for some of the more common causes, such as swelling of the eyelids (blepharitis)diabetes or medicines.

If needed, they can refer you to a specialist for further tests, such as:

  • blood tests
  • an eye examination
  • a lip biopsy – where a tiny piece of tissue from inside your lip is removed and examined under a microscope

Find out more about the tests for Sjögren's syndrome

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Treatments for Sjögren's syndrome

There's currently no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, but there are several treatments that can help, such as:

  • eye drops that keep your eyes wet (artificial tears)
  • sprays, lozenges (medicated sweets) and gels that keep your mouth wet (saliva substitutes)
  • medicine that helps your body produce more tears and saliva

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If you have Sjögren's syndrome, there are some things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.

These include:

  • avoiding dry, smoky or windy places
  • avoiding reading, watching TV or looking at screens for a long time
  • practising good oral hygiene
  • avoiding alcohol and not smoking

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Causes of Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome is caused by the immune system, the body's defence against illness, damaging healthy parts of the body. This is what's known as an autoimmune condition.

The bits of the body usually affected are those that produce fluids like tears and saliva. But other parts of the body, such as nerves and joints, can also be affected.

It's not clear why the immune system stops working properly.

It may be linked to:

  • genetics – some people may be born with genes that make them more likely to get an autoimmune condition
  • hormones – the female hormone oestrogen may play a part, as the condition is much more common in women than men

Sjögren's syndrome can occur with other autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. This is known as secondary Sjögren's syndrome. 

Primary Sjögren's syndrome is where you do not have any other related conditions.

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Living with Sjögren's syndrome

Sjögren's syndrome is a long-term condition that does not tend to get better on its own, although the symptoms can often be treated.

For some people the condition may just be a bit of a nuisance, while for others it can have a big impact on their everyday life.

Some people may develop complications of Sjögren's syndrome, such as problems with their vision or lungs.

There's also a slightly increased risk of a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

If you're diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, ask your doctor about what you can expect.

You may also find it useful to contact organisations such as the British Sjögren's Syndrome Association (BSSA) for advice and support.

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