Sjogren's syndrome is an incurable, autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakes its own moisture-producing glands for foreign invaders. The immune system then attacks and destroys these glands causing the hallmark symptoms of dry eyes and dry mouth. Like lupus, Sjogren's can also damage vital organs of the body with symptoms that may plateau, worsen, or go into remission. Some people may only experience the mild symptoms of dry eyes and mouth, while others go through cycles of good health followed by severe disease. Many patients are able to treat problems symptomatically. Others are forced to cope with blurred vision, constant eye discomfort, recurrent mouth infections, swollen parotid glands, hoarseness and difficulty in swallowing and eating. In addition to affecting the eyes and mouth, Sjogren's syndrome can cause skin, nose and vaginal dryness and can affect other organs of the body, including kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and brain. Debilitating fatigue and joint pain can seriously impair quality of life.
There are two types of Sjogren's syndrome: Primary Sjogren's syndrome, when lacrimal glands (eyes) and parotid and other salivary glands (mouth) are infiltrated and dysfunctional. This occurs without presence of other autoimmune, connective tissue disease ([eg] lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.); Secondary Sjogren's syndrome, when Sjogren's symptoms are present and accompanied by a disease affecting the body's connective tissue.
An estimated 2-4 million Americans have Shogren's disorder, many of whom go undiagnosed. Nine out of ten individuals with Sjogren's are women. Approximately 50% of people with Sjogren's syndrome are described as having secondary Sjogren's syndrome.