What is Sjögren’s Syndrome? Why dry eyes or mouth may be serious warning signs

Could a case of dry eyes or dry mouth be the beginning of something far more serious? Autoimmune disorders come in all shapes and sizes, from arthritis to multiple sclerosis. However, a less commonly known condition often starts with very unassuming symptoms, and that’s Sjögren’s syndrome.

Sjögren’s syndrome, also called Sjögren’s Disease (SJD), is a condition that affects each individual differently. It impacts various organs and requires a nuanced approach to care. Sjögren’s Disease manifests as an autoimmune disorder primarily attacking healthy glands that produce tears and saliva. However, its reach can extend to various organs, presenting a spectrum of challenges that underscore the condition’s complexity and the necessity for personalized care.

Symptoms of Sjögren’s extend beyond dry eyes and mouth to include neurological issues like “brain fog,” gastrointestinal problems, joint and muscle pain, and more severe manifestations like organ dysfunction and increased lymphoma risk. This variability in symptoms highlights the importance of a comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment.

Man with a red dry eye
Could a case of dry eyes or dry mouth be the beginning of something far more serious? (Credit: Shutterstock)

What Causes Sjögren’s Syndrome?

While the exact cause of Sjögren’s remains unclear, its autoimmune nature — where the immune system attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands and potentially other organs — suggests a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors.

Key risk factors for Sjögren’s include gender, age — specifically women between 40 and 50 are at higher risk — and a family history of Sjögren’s or other autoimmune disorders. Understanding these factors is crucial for early recognition and intervention, potentially mitigating the impact of the disease.

How Do Doctors Tell When Something’s Wrong?

The diagnosis of Sjögren’s is challenging due to the broad spectrum of symptoms that can mimic other conditions. A combination of patient history, physical examination, blood tests, and specialized tests for eye and mouth dryness is essential. Notably, the diagnosis process has improved significantly, with the Sjögren’s Foundation helping to reduce the time for a proper diagnosis by an average of 2.8 years.

The overlap of Sjögren’s symptoms with those of other autoimmune disorders complicates its diagnosis. This underscores the necessity for healthcare providers to consider Sjögren’s in the differential diagnosis when patients present with a constellation of symptoms indicative of autoimmune activity.

Doctor looking at throat of sick teen girl, possible strep throat
Key risk factors for Sjögren’s include gender, age — specifically women between 40 and 50 are at higher risk — and a family history of Sjögren’s or other autoimmune disorders. (© Alexander Raths – stock.adobe.com)

Treatments for Sjögren’s Syndrome

Treatment for Sjögren’s is highly individualized, focusing on alleviating specific symptoms and preventing complications. While lifestyle changes can significantly improve quality of life, most patients will eventually require prescription medications to control the disease and minimize potential complications.

Medications used in treating Sjögren’s syndrome include a diverse array of drugs that manage the symptoms:

NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Naproxen)

  • First-line treatments used to reduce the inflammation that is often a main symptom of Sjögren’s

Corticosteroids (Prednisone)

  • Fast-acting and very effective in stopping many severe symptoms of Sjögren’s and flare-ups

DMARDs (Hydroxychloroquine, Methotrexate, Azathioprine)

  • Not as fast acting as corticosteroids, however, effective in modifying the immune system’s functions to regulate the abnormal immune responses that cause Sjögren’s

Biologics (Cyclophosphamide, Rituximab)

  • Used for most severe forms of Sjögren’s to help regulate the immune system

The choice of medication is tailored to the patient’s specific symptoms and disease severity, emphasizing the importance of a personalized treatment plan developed in collaboration with healthcare providers.

Living with Sjögren’s Syndrome

Living with Sjögren’s Disease requires adaptation and proactive management of symptoms. With a comprehensive and individualized approach to treatment, including both over-the-counter products and prescription drugs, individuals with Sjögren’s can lead fulfilling lives while effectively managing the condition.

Sjögren’s Disease presents a complex challenge, necessitating a personalized and dynamic approach to management. Armed with a deeper understanding of the condition, individuals affected by Sjögren’s can navigate their healthcare journey with confidence, supported by advances in diagnosis and treatment that offer hope for improved quality of life.

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About the Author

Alexander Olumese, PharmD

Alexander Olumese is a DMV-based registered pharmacist and medical writer. He has over 10 years of experience with community and hospital pharmacies, as well as over 3 years within the pharmaceutical industry as a medical writer within medical affairs. He has a background in a variety of therapeutic areas. However, he specializes in cardiovascular disease, oncology, pain medicine, and infectious disease.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer


  1. Thank you so much for helping to educate the public, patients, and family members, as well as health care providers about Sjogren’s Disease, which affects an estimated 4 million Americans. It took me 46 years and many doctor visits to be diagnosed and started on treatment. Advice to others: ask for a referral to a rheumatologist.

  2. Interesting article. It takes a long time and dedicated physicians to diagnosis autoimmune diseases. I’ve had 42 blood tests in two years and dread them since each leads to more complications of disease. Referring to other specialists is part and parcel of autoimmunity disorders. I’m now with a Neurologist for an MRI of my brain. Genetics play a role so if a family member has an autoimmune disorder ask to be tested for ANA. Some doctors have just referred me to pain management. NOT. This is a lifetime diagnosis with no cure. I’m not taking opioids. Good luck and try not to be discouraged.

    1. Thank you both for your responses to this article. I am currently in process of trying to find out what caused my severe pain in my joints . It seems autoimmune issues could be the cause. Many blood tests were performed this week and awaiting results. I was started on a Medrol dose pack which has taken most of the pain away along with a prescription anti inflammatory twice daily. Knee braces have become a staple for me. Still having joint swelling in the knees and ankles . Still have pain in those and hips as well, but so much better on the steroids . I have the dry mouth and eyes. My dentist mentioned this to me a couple months ago before the joint pain came on after a routine colonoscopy.

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