Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the exocrine glands that produce tears and saliva. It is named after Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren (1899-1986), who first described it. Sjögren's syndrome is also associated with rheumatic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, and it is rheumatoid factor positive in 90 percent of cases. The hallmark symptoms of the disorder are dry mouth and dry eyes (part of what are known as sicca symptoms). In addition, Sjögren's syndrome may cause skin, nose, and vaginal dryness, and may affect other organs of the body, including the kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and brain. Nine out of ten Sjögren's patients are women and the average age of onset is late 40s, although Sjögren's occurs in all age groups in both women and men. It is estimated to strike as many as 4 million people in the United States alone making it the second most common autoimmune rheumatic disease.
Treatment of Sjögren's syndrome
There is neither a known cure for Sjögren's syndrome nor a specific treatment to permanently restore gland secretion. Instead, treatment is generally symptomatic and supportive. Moisture replacement therapies such as artificial tears may ease the symptoms of dry eyes (some patients with more severe problems use goggles to increase local humidity or have punctal plugs inserted to help retain tears on the ocular surface for a longer time). Additionally, Cyclosporin (Restasis) is available by prescription to help treat chronic dry eye by suppressing the inflammation that disrupts tear secretion. Prescription drugs are also available that help to stimulate salivary flow, such as cevimeline and pilocarpine. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to treat musculoskeletal symptoms. For individuals with severe complications, corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed. Also, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate may be helpful.
Prognosis for Sjögren's syndrome
Sjögren's can damage vital organs of the body with symptoms that may plateau or worsen, but the disease does not go into remission as with other autoimmune diseases. Some people may experience only the mild symptoms of dry eyes and mouth, while others have symptoms of 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. Debilitating fatigue and joint pain can seriously impair quality of life. Some patients can develop renal involvement (autoimmune tubulointerstitial nephritis) leading to proteinuria, urinary concentrating defect and distal renal tubular acidosis.
Patients with Sjögren's syndrome have a higher rate of non-Hodgkin lymphoma compared to both patients with other autoimmune diseases and healthy people. About 5% of patients with Sjögren's syndrome will develop some form of lymphoid malignancy. Patients with severe cases are much more likely to develop lymphomas than patients with mild or moderate cases. The most common lymphomas are salivary extranodal marginal zone B cell lymphomas (MALT lymphomas in the salivary glands) and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
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