10 Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome

According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF), Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease that impacts the entire body, including the eyes, mouth, joints, nerves and major organs. In honor of World Sjögren’s Day, read on to learn 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

The SSF estimates that there are as many as 4 million Americans living with the disease, and it’s the second most common autoimmune condition. The exact prevalence of the condition is difficult to determine, however, since the symptoms tend to mimic those of other conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It can even be confused with menopause, allergies, and drug side effects.

2. It mostly affects women

The SSF states that nine out of 10 Sjögren’s patients are women, and the average age of diagnosis is the late 40s. However, the disease can impact anyone of any age, including men and children as well.

3. It causes extensive dryness

Sjögren’s Syndrome develops as a result of the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the body’s exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands. As a consequence, patients experience widespread dryness throughout their body, but especially impacting their eyes, nose, mouth, skin, vagina and joints.

4. It affects the eyes

The disease is often first detected as a result of eye-related symptoms. This includes dry, gritty eyes that feel like sandpaper when blinking and swollen tear glands. Dry eyes can in turn lead to blurred vision, infections, corneal ulcerations and blepharitis. Several of the eye tests that can be used to help diagnose the condition include a Schirmer test, to measure tear production, and a Rose Bengal and Lissamine Green test, to examine dry spots on the eye’s surface.

5. It affects the mouth, throat and nose

Sjögren’s also affects one’s mouth, throat and nasal cavity; the main symptom being dryness. This, in turn, leads to a whole host of other symptoms, such as mouth sores, dental decay, oral thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth), recurrent sinusitis, nose bleeds, heartburn, reflux esophagitis, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. Some physicians administer a lip gland biopsy as a part of the diagnosis process.

6. It impacts one’s joints too

As the immune system destroys the body’s moisture-producing glands, this results in a decrease in synovial fluid, which helps to keep the joints lubricated. This causes inflammatory joint pain and musculoskeletal pain, and can even lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, as shown through a positive Rheumatoid Factor (RF) reading in the blood. In fact, the main physicians who treat Sjögren’s are rheumatologists.

7. Neurological problems are also common

Sjögren’s causes a variety of nervous system symptoms, including nerve pain and peripheral neuropathy (a numbness and tingling in the extremities). Other neurological problems include difficulty concentrating and memory loss, often referred to as “brain fog”.

8. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients may find that their symptoms plateau, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. A French research study published in Rheumatology also found that early onset primary Sjögren’s Syndrome carried a worse prognosis over the course of the disease (‘early onset’ is defined as a diagnosis before age 35). While some Sjögren’s patients experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their quality of life.

9. It can increase one’s risk of cancer

A German study found that Sjögren’s Syndrome moderately increases one’s risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, spleen, and other tissues. The lifetime risk of developing NHL by age 80 is 8% among men and 5.4% among women with Sjögren’s. This is compared to a risk of 1.6% of men and 1.1% of women in the general population.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s, check out the SSF’s video series, Conquering Sjögren’s, and their patient-published Self-Help Booklet. The foundation’s website, www.sjogrens.org, also contains a wealth of resources on the disease, including information about treatment options, survival tips, fact sheets, and even template letters for your health insurance company. You can also check out their extensive network of support groups.

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Actress Jameela Jamil Describes Life with Autoimmune Disease

British actress and model Jameela Jamil struggles with daily living with two chronic illnesses, including an autoimmune disease.

British actress and model Jameela Jamil took to Instagram this week to describe her struggle of living with an autoimmune disease. The 33-year-old suffers from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which one’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing hypothryoidism (an underactive thyroid). This, in turn, can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue and depression.

Jamil wrote, “Living with an autoimmune condition is a real pain in the arse, and it irrationally makes you feel like a failure for not being able to “live it up” like other “normal” people. Shout out to all of us who struggle with this, and go through all of the incredible shitty days, and make it through each one. Even if it’s just by the skin of our teeth. We are LEGENDS for our strength of character.”

In addition to Hashimoto’s, Jamil also revealed that she has Ehler’s-Danlos syndrome (EDS) type 3. While this chronic illness is not autoimmune, in causes various painful symptoms, such as joint hypermobility, loose joints, poor wound healing and easy bruising. Like Hashimoto’s, there is no cure for EDS. Jamil confirmed her condition after a fan asked her why her arm was overextended in a photo on Twitter, then subsequently posted a video stretching her skin.

Jamil also described how hard it is to take care of herself, while others around her experience few health problems, even if they don’t care for their health. She wrote on her Instagram page, “Shout out if you are so fucking tired of having to protect yourself in a bubble while so many other people are able to just eat what they want, take drugs, stay out all night, drink a lot, take risks, do sports….etc. But you make one less than perfect choice and your day/week is ruined. The envy is real…I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I’m with you.”

To read more about Jameela Jamil and her fight against Hashimoto’s and EDS, click here.

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