Secondary Sjogren's Syndrome and Arthritis
What Is Secondary Sjogren’s Syndrome?
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that damages moisture-producing glands, making it difficult to produce saliva and tears. When Sjogren’s syndrome occurs by itself, it is called primary Sjogren’s syndrome. When it develops in someone who has another autoimmune disease, it is called secondary Sjogren’s syndrome. People with secondary Sjogren’s tend to have a more mild form of the condition. However, they also must deal with the symptoms of the coexisting disease. The most common cause of secondary Sjogren’s is rheumatoid arthritis.
The symptoms of Sjogren’s include extremely dry eyes, mouth, and throat. You may have difficulty tasting or swallowing your food. You may also develop a cough, dental issues, or have difficulty speaking. For women, vaginal dryness may also become a problem. You may also feel muscle and joint achiness and increased fatigue. Less often, Sjogren’s causes skin rash, gastrointestinal problems, or inflammation of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, or lungs.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, more than a million people in the U.S. have Sjogren’s syndrome. More than 90 percent of them are women. You can develop Sjogren’s at any age, but it is most often diagnosed after age 40. The exact cause is unknown, but like rheumatoid arthritis, it is a disorder of the autoimmune system.
There is no single, definitive test for Sjogren’s. Diagnosis usually occurs after someone with a diagnosed autoimmune disease develops extreme dryness of the mouth and eyes. Diagnosis involves a complete medical history and physical examination.
Be sure to tell your doctor about over-the-counter and prescription medications you are taking. Some medications can cause the symptoms associated with Sjogren’s. Diagnostic testing may include blood tests to determine whether your blood has certain antibodies characteristic of Sjogren’s. In some cases, your doctor may want to biopsy your saliva glands.
Treatment: Controlling Symptoms
There is no cure for Sjogren’s or arthritis, so treatment revolves around controlling symptoms. Your treatment will depend on the severity of your individual symptoms. Treatment may require a combination of different methods. You can combat fatigue by getting a good night’s sleep and taking appropriate breaks during the day. Ask your doctor about exercises that can help you increase flexibility and ease muscle and joint pain. Maintaining a diet rich in nutrients can improve your overall health. Many people with arthritis find relief with the use of complementary treatments like yoga, tai chi, or acupuncture.
Treatment: Oral Hygiene
Dry mouth causes oral and dental problems, so proper oral hygiene is very important. Limit your sugar intake and get regular dental checkups. Choose dental products made specifically for dry mouth and be sure to floss every day. Hard candy and chewing gum can help you produce saliva, but make sure they are sugar-free. For dry lips, use lip balm or lipstick that has an oil or petroleum base. Your doctor can recommend mouth rinses or ointments to ease pain and inflammation. In severe cases, your doctor can prescribe a gel-based saliva substitute or other stronger prescription medications.
There are several things you can do to help with the eye-related symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. Use a humidifier to keep the air moist at home. Avoid smoke and protect your eyes from wind. You should also avoid eye makeup or skin creams that irritate your eyes. Try over-the-counter artificial tears. If they don’t do the trick, ask your doctor to prescribe something stronger. Some thicker eye ointments can be used while you sleep. Consult with your doctor before applying ointments or gels to your eyes. For stubborn cases, a surgical procedure called punctual occlusion can temporarily or permanently close off the tear ducts that drain tears from your eyes.
Treatment: Aches and Pains
If you have joint and muscle aches and pains, try over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medications. If they don’t do the trick, ask your doctor about corticosteroids, as well as antirheumatic or immunosuppressive medications. You can temporarily soothe aches and pains by applying heat or cold compresses. Regular exercise can improve flexibility and lessen discomfort. Additionally, maintaining a proper body weight will put less stress on joints and muscles.
What Kind of Doctor Do I Need?
Doctors who specialize in diseases like arthritis are called rheumatologists. If you’ve already been diagnosed with arthritis, your rheumatologist will most likely be able to help treat your case of Sjogren’s. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your rheumatologist or general physician may refer you an internist or to one or more specialists. An eye specialist is called an ophthalmologist, and an ear, nose, and throat specialist is called an otolaryngologist.
There is no cure for Sjogren’s or for arthritis, but there are many treatment options and lifestyle choices that can improve quality of life. Most people with Sjogren’s can make the necessary adjustments to live a normal life. Symptoms of arthritis vary from very mild to debilitating. The key is to work with your doctor to find the best treatments for your symptoms. In rare cases, people with Sjogren’s may develop lymphoma. Report signs of unusual swelling or neurologic problems to your doctor.
- Questions and Answers about Sjogren’s Syndrome. (2013, June). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sjogrens_Syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis. (2013, May 7). University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/rheumatoid-arthritis
- Sjogren’s Syndrome. (2012, July). American College of Rheumatology. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Sjögren_s_Syndrome
- Sjogren’s Syndrome. (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/sjoumlgrens-syndrome
- Sjogren's Syndrome. (2011, January 4). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/orthopaedics-rheumatology/diseases-conditions/hic-sjogrens-syndrome.aspx
- Sjogren’s syndrome. (2011, August 6). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 24, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sjogrens-syndrome/DS00147