Some research suggests that people with Sjögren disease might develop headaches more often than people in the general population, but the link isn’t entirely clear.

Sjögren disease, sometimes also called Sjögren’s syndrome or simply Sjögren’s, is an autoimmune condition that occurs when your immune system attacks glands that make:

  • saliva
  • tears
  • other fluids

Sjögren disease affects about 1–3% of people, with about 90% of those people being female. The most common symptoms of Sjögren disease are dry eyes and a dry mouth.

Research suggests that headaches might be more common in people with Sjögren disease compared with people in the general population. Migraine and tension headaches are the types of headaches with the most evidence linking them to Sjögren disease.

Read on to learn more about the link between Sjögren disease and headaches.

Researchers are continuing to examine the link between Sjögren disease and headaches. Some studies have found a potential connection while others haven’t.

A potential link has been suggested between Sjögren disease and:

Sjögren disease is an autoimmune disease, which means it’s caused by your immune system attacking healthy cells. It leads to inflammation and damage to your salivary glands, tear glands, and other glandular tissue that produces moisture.

Sjögren disease is also commonly associated with inflammation of your nerves and blood vessels, which can potentially cause many neurological symptoms, including headaches.

It’s been suggested that headaches in people with Sjögren disease might be related to autoimmune endotheliitis, which is inflammation of the endothelial cells that your blood vessels attack as a result of an autoimmune reaction.

Sjögren syndrome and migraine headaches

Some studies have found a potential link between Sjögren disease or dry eyes and migraine headaches, although the link isn’t clear.

Researchers think that dryness of your eye surface might activate your trigeminal nerve and cause reflexive tearing and migraine headaches.

Sjögren syndrome and aseptic meningitis

Aseptic meningitis is inflammation of the covering of your brain and spinal cord in the absence of a bacterial infection. It’s a rare complication of Sjögren disease and can cause a severe headache and other symptoms, such as:

Headache seems to be one of the most common neurological symptoms of Sjögren disease. The occurrence of neurological symptoms has been reported in anywhere from 2.5–60% of people, depending on the methods and definitions used in various studies.

Headaches are very common in the general population, which makes it difficult to determine if they’re more common in people with Sjögren disease. Some studies haven’t found a link.

In a 2023 study, 34 of 48 people with Sjögren disease and no other autoimmune conditions treated at one hospital in Syria had central nervous system injury. The central nervous system includes your brain and spinal cord. Headache was the most common neurological symptom, occurring in 45% of people.

Sjögren disease has been linked to a wide range of neurological conditions. Besides headaches, other neurological symptoms that have been reported in people with Sjögren disease include:

Neurological symptoms occur before traditional symptoms in 25–60% of people with Sjögren disease.

The National Health Service recommends seeing a doctor or healthcare professional about headaches if:

  • You have recurrent headaches.
  • Pain relievers aren’t effective and your headache gets worse.
  • You have throbbing pain at the front or side of your head that might be a symptom of a migraine or cluster headache.
  • You feel sick, find light and noise painful, or vomit.

If you develop symptoms of Sjögren disease, such as irritated eyes or dry mouth, a doctor can help you develop strategies to minimize these symptoms.

Medical emergency

Call 911 or local emergency services if you develop a severe headache and it:

  • is intensely painful
  • feels different from previous headaches
  • occurs along with symptoms of a seizure, such as muscle contractions or unusual head and eye movements
  • occurs along with weakness in your arms or legs
  • comes on after a period of strenuous physical activity

Headaches associated with Sjögren disease are treated the same way as headaches with other causes. Treatment opinions include but aren’t limited to:

TreatmentMigraine headachesCluster headacheTension headacheAseptic meningitis
Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
Anti-nausea medications
Lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers
Oxygen mask
Intravenous (IV) fluids and emergency treatments

Sjögren disease doesn’t have a cure. A doctor may recommend corticosteroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to reduce your autoimmune reaction.

It’s not clear if these medications currently help manage Sjögren disease. They’re generally considered ineffective, but modest effects have been found in some studies.

You may be able to prevent headaches by making general lifestyle improvements like:

  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding triggers
  • eating regularly
  • getting adequate sleep
  • managing stress

Learn more about preventing headaches.

Headaches potentially caused by Sjögren disease are treated the same way as headaches with other causes. The most common types of headaches associated with Sjögren disease are migraine and tension headaches.