Sjögren's (pronounced Show-grin's) syndrome affects parts of the body producing fluids, like tears and spit (saliva). It usually starts aged 40 to 60 and is much more common in women than men. It's a long-term condition that can affect your daily life, but there are treatments to help relieve symptoms.
Symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome
Symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome include:
- dry eyes
- a dry mouth
- dry skin
- vaginal dryness
- muscle or joint pain
- swelling between the jaw and ears (swollen salivary glands)
- rashes (especially after being out in the sun)
When to see your GP
See your GP if you have symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome that don't go away or are bothering you.
There are many things that can cause similar symptoms. Your GP can check for some of the more common causes, such as:
- swelling of the eyelids (blepharitis)
- side effects of certain medications – including antihistamines, antidepressants, beta-blockers and diuretics
If needed, they can refer you to a specialist for further tests, such as:
- blood tests
- an eye examination
Treatments for Sjögren's syndrome
There's currently no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, but there are things you can do to help relieve your symptoms.
- avoid dry, smoky or windy places
- avoid reading, watching TV, or looking at screens for a long time
- practise good oral hygiene
- avoid alcohol and don't smoke
There are also several treatments that can help, such as:
- eye drops that keep your eyes wet (artificial tears)
- sprays, lozenges (medicated sweets) and gels that keep your mouth wet (saliva substitutes)
- medicine that helps your body produce more tears and saliva
Causes of Sjögren's syndrome
Sjögren's syndrome is caused by the immune system – the body's defence against illness – damaging healthy parts of the body. This is what's known as an autoimmune condition.
The bits of the body usually affected are those that produce fluids like tears and saliva. But other parts of the body, such as nerves and joints, can also be affected.
It's unclear why the immune system stops working properly. It may be linked to:
- genetics – some people may be born with genes that make them more likely to get an autoimmune condition
- hormones – the female hormone oestrogen may be a factor, as the condition is more common in women than men
Sjögren's syndrome can occur with other autoimmune conditions like:
This is known as secondary Sjögren's syndrome. Primary Sjögren's syndrome is where you don't have any other related conditions.
Living with Sjögren's syndrome
Sjögren's syndrome is a long-term condition that doesn't tend to get better on its own, although the symptoms can often be treated.
For some people the condition may just be a bit of a nuisance, while for others it can have a big impact on their everyday life.
Some people may develop complications of Sjögren's syndrome, such as problems with their vision or lungs. There's also a slightly increased risk of a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
If you're diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, ask your doctor about what you can expect.
You may also find it useful to contact organisations such as the British Sjögren's Syndrome Association (BSSA) for advice and support.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.