Health A-Z

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What Is It?

Sjögren's (pronounced "show grins") syndrome is a chronic (or lifelong) condition that causes dry mouth and dry eyes. The syndrome also can affect any of the body's glands, including those that secrete sweat, saliva and oil.

Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own cells and organs. In this case, the immune system attacks the organs that normally produce lubricating fluid, including the salivary glands in the mouth and the lacrimal glands in the eye. This leads to scarring and, eventually, a marked reduction in tear and saliva production, which causes dryness of the eyes and mouth.

Dry mouth and dry eyes can lead to tooth decay, periodontal disease, poorly fitting dentures, salivary gland stones, infection of the salivary glands, oral fungal infections (thrush), mouth sores, weight loss, malnutrition, bacterial conjunctivitis (a bacterial infection of the conjunctiva), corneal damage and vision loss.

Named after Swedish eye doctor Dr. Henrik Sjögren, this syndrome can affect people of all ages and races. However, 90% of all cases involve women, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 55. The condition affects between 2 million and 4 million people in the United States. The cause of this disease is unknown. Research is ongoing, including recent discoveries that certain genes may make a person more prone to developing Sjögren's syndrome.

About half of people with Sjögren's syndrome also have another connective-tissue disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus). In these people, Sjögren's syndrome is referred to as a secondary condition. In people without another connective-tissue disease, Sjögren's syndrome is called a primary condition.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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