Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Anna Simon, BS, Ellen M. Martin

Autoimmune disease is an “invisible epidemic.” Despite affecting roughly 16% of the US population, autoimmunity remains under-recognized, under-researched and under-served. To combat this lack of awareness and to connect patients, families, and caregivers with useful resources, we at Your Autoimmunity Connection are publishing a series of “spotlights” on autoimmune diseases and other diseases that are closely linked to immune dysfunction.

In light of April being Sjogren’s Awareness Month, our new spotlight shines on Sjogren’s syndrome. Continue reading to become connected with available statistics, research initiatives, supportive patient communities, and more! Be sure to check out our Facebook page and forum for more autoimmune-related updates.

What is Sjogren’s syndrome?

Sjogren’s syndrome is a systemic autoimmune disease, meaning it affects the entire body. The hallmark symptoms include dry eyes & mouth, fatigue, and joint pain, reflecting the characteristic autoimmune attack on mucus membranes and moisture-secreting glands. While salivary gland and tear duct dysfunction are most closely associated with Sjogren’s, in many patients, Sjogren’s can also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, lungs, liver, pancreas, gut, blood vessels, and central nerves. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to impaired functioning. Common comorbidities (present in half of patients) include autoimmune-related connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma.

How is Sjogren’s diagnosed?

Since symptoms overlap with other conditions or autoimmune diseases, diagnosis can be difficult. Rheumatologists typically approach diagnosis through the use of various tests. The gold standard for a Sjogren’s diagnosis is a positive lip biopsy. The clearest blood test marker is a positive blood test for the autoantibody SSA. However, testing negative for this marker does not rule out Sjogren’s. Other tests may be needed, such as various blood, eye, and dental tests. Considering both the individual constellation of symptoms and the results of tests is the best way to reach a diagnosis.

How is Sjogren’s treated?

There is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome; however, treatments may improve symptoms and prevent further complications. Both over-the-counter and prescription products are used to treat dry eyes and mouth. Immunosuppressive medications can help treat organ dysfunctions.

What do the numbers show?

Current available statistics on Sjogren’s syndrome estimate that…

  • Up to 3 million adults suffer from Sjogren’s
  • Symptoms most commonly emerge during ages 45-55
  • 9 out of 10 patients are women
  • Diagnosis takes an average of 2.8 years

Organizations such as The Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation work toward reevaluating the current state of care for Sjogren’s syndrome and raising awareness. Meanwhile, our team at Your Autoimmunity Connection works to connect patients both with one another and with currently available resources.

Connecting you with resources

Brush up on the basics

While some of you may already have some background knowledge about Sjogren’s syndrome, let’s take a moment to review the basics. The following resources provide a comprehensive overview of Sjogren’s syndrome:

  • Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation: About Sjogren’s
    • Read about symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.
  • American College of Rheumatology: Sjogren’s Syndrome
    • Delve into broader health impacts and what it’s like living with the disease.
  • Mayo Clinic: Sjogren’s Syndrome
    • Learn more about causes, risk factors, and complications.  

For anyone affected – Find your patient community

What’s happening in research?

When looking at the big picture, we must remember that Sjogren’s syndrome falls within the larger category of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases of which there are more than 100. In our research, we have found that 50 million Americans suffer from one or more autoimmune diseases. A research study further estimated that approximately 25% of patients with autoimmune diseases have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune diseases.¹

We hope our spotlight on Sjogren’s syndrome connects you with beneficial resources and information. We believe it is essential to take a holistic approach to combat the autoimmune disease epidemic. By looking at all autoimmune and similar diseases together, we can move away from the fragmented view that hides the magnitude of the problem and head toward concerted action in reshaping research, diagnosis, and treatment. Our model is based on the revolution in cancer research and treatment over the past 50 years, made possible by viewing cancer as a group of diseases with a common foundation, thus garnering far more resources than had been devoted to individual types of cancer alone. Help us bring this revolution to autoimmunity!

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[1] Cojocaru, M, Inimioara Mihaela Cojocaru, and Isabela Silosi. “Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome.” Mædica 5.2 (2010): 132–134. Print.

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