Diagnosing any condition can be hard. This is especially true with autoimmune connective tissue diseases such as Sjögren’s Disease. This is because so many body systems are involved that a large array of symptoms can be present and those symptoms can be related to any number of other diseases. You have to consider how Sjögren’s Disease is uniquely different.
Sjögren’s Disease is notably different from other very similar autoimmune conditions such as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis in that moisture producing glands (exocrine glands) throughout the body are attacked specifically. This results in those “hallmark symptoms” that you always hear about. “Dry eyes and dry mouth.” The problem with this is that many other conditions and medications can cause those symptoms as well. If you can prove that a systemic (affects the whole body) autoimmune condition is present that includes attack of the exocrine glands then that is how you reach diagnosis.
Specifically, for diagnosis, symptoms of dry eye need to be present for at least 3 months with no other identifiable cause (such as medications). You may feel like you have grit in your eye or a foreign body sensation and usually sufferers use artificial tears three or more times per day.For me, my dry eye symptoms also prevent me from being able to read for any length of time or stare at computer screens. They also get so dry that my vision becomes affected and blurred. It really disrupts life!
It’s the same thing with dry mouth. You want to make sure medications are not contributing to this condition. If you have dry mouth symptoms for at least 3 months you would want to investigate this further. Symptoms of extremely dry mouth include needing liquids to swallow dry foods and a chronic dry cough. You may have recurrent or persistently swollen salivary glands. These glands are found under your chin and along your jawline. When mine swell I feel like I have chipmunk face… Outstanding! Right?
Sjögren’s attacks all of your moisture producing glands so expect a dry vagina, dry skin, dry gastrointestinal tract (this may contribute to constipation) and dry respiratory tract (which could lead to more sinus and lung infections). The list of systemic (full body) symptoms associated with Sjögren’s is extensive and usually includes debilitating fatigue, muscle and/or joint pain, mental fog / difficulty concentrating, peripheral neuropathies and, as with me, Raynaud’s phenomenon.
This is where diagnosis starts. When you have symptoms that start painting a picture then that’s when you usually move on to other diagnostic measures such as lab work, eye exams, salivary evaluation, and biopsies. I’ll get to those in upcoming blog posts. Do you have symptoms of Sjögren’s disease? Leave your comments under a Sjögrens post on my FaceBook Like page. It’s the best way to share and spread awareness!
Have a 5 spoon day!
Barbara Grubbs, Nurse Practitioner