Sjögren’s syndrome (SS) is a chronic (long-term) disease that affects the body’s moisture-producing glands and causes a reduction in a variety of body fluids. The most common glands that are affected are the tear glands and salivary glands. People with SS often have dry eyes that can feel gritty and suffer from dry mouth. The dryness usually gets worse as the day goes on. Other glands and organs can also be affected, potentially causing a wide variety of additional symptoms including joint pain, skin rashes, and numbness and tingling in the feet.
SS is an autoimmune disease, meaning that it occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. The reason it does this is not well understood. When the body’s immune system is “activated” in this way, it can make a person feel very tired, similar to when they have the flu.
SS is relatively rare (0.5%, or 1 in 200 people, will get it) and it affects women about ten times more frequently than men. Most people who get it notice their first symptoms between the ages of 30 and 50.
Sjögren’s syndrome can be tricky to diagnose because of its range of symptoms and their similarity to other diseases. It is best diagnosed by a rheumatologist or another specialist who knows a lot about SS.