Overview and Facts about Sjögren’s Syndrome
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which your body begins to attack itself by accident. While Sjögren’s syndrome commonly involves problems with your tear and saliva glands, it can also have more serious side effects that affect the function of your lungs. In particular, it can cause interstitial lung disease, which is when your lungs become scarred, making it hard to breathe. This happens in nine to 20 percent of patients with this syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Sjögren’s Syndrome
At first, you will probably notice your mouth and eyes are dry. This dryness might spread to your skin, throat, or nose. As Sjögren’s syndrome continues to develop, it can even cause joint pain and stiffness. If you happen to develop interstitial lung disease, you’ll notice the following symptoms:
- Bleeding in the lungs
- Chest pain
- Dry cough
- Lack of appetite
- Shortness of breath
Causes and Risk Factors of Sjögren’s Syndrome
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of Sjögren’s syndrome, but they do know that genes play a certain role. Some people can be more likely to develop Sjögren’s syndrome if they have a certain gene, but they would still need to be exposed to an external trigger (such as a virus or strain of bacteria) for this to happen.
While women are overall more likely to develop Sjögren’s syndrome, men are more likely to experience complications with the lungs if they do develop the disease. Those who smoke, those who are older when they develop the condition, and those who have had the condition for a long time are also at a greater risk for developing interstitial lung disease.
Tests and Diagnosis of Sjögren’s Syndrome
If you visit a pulmonology and critical care specialist, he or she will be able to ask about your medical history and perform a full physical exam to get a better idea of your condition. The doctor will also need to perform some tests to see if Sjögren’s syndrome is the cause of your symptoms:
- Blood tests to look at your blood cells, check your antibodies, look for signs of inflammation, and identify problems with your kidneys or liver
- Salivary scintigraphy to see how quickly an injection will make it into your salivary glands
- Schirmer tear test to check and see how dry your eyes are
- Sialogram, which involves using a dye and taking an X-ray to get a better look at your salivary glands
To check for interstitial lung disease, your doctor might also perform a chest X-ray, a biopsy to remove cells from the lungs, or spirometry tests to see how well your lungs are functioning.
Treatment and Care for Sjögren’s Syndrome
For the best treatment, seek care from a pulmonology and critical care specialist. Your doctor can prescribe medications to decrease inflammation in your eyes and increase the production of saliva.
If your Sjögren’s syndrome has caused interstitial lung disease, unfortunately, the scarring is permanent. However, corticosteroid medications can help suppress your immune system and prevent damage from worsening. Oxygen therapy can also help you breathe easier.