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Reviewed August 2013
What is Sjögren syndrome?
Sjögren syndrome is a disorder whose main features are dry eyes and a dry mouth. The condition typically develops gradually beginning in middle adulthood, but can occur at any age.
Sjögren syndrome is classified as an autoimmune disorder, one of a large group of conditions that occur when the immune system attacks the body's own tissues and organs. In Sjögren syndrome, the immune system primarily attacks the glands that produce tears (the lacrimal glands) and saliva (the salivary glands), impairing the glands' ability to secrete these fluids.
Dry eyes may lead to itching, burning, a feeling of sand in the eyes, blurry vision, or intolerance of bright or fluorescent lighting. A dry mouth can feel chalky or full of cotton, and affected individuals may have difficulty speaking, tasting food, or swallowing. Because saliva helps protect the teeth and the tissues of the oral cavity, people with Sjögren syndrome are at increased risk of tooth decay and infections in the mouth.
In most people with Sjögren syndrome, dry eyes and dry mouth are the primary features of the disorder, and general health and life expectancy are largely unaffected. However, in some cases the immune system also attacks and damages other organs and tissues. This complication is known as extraglandular involvement. Affected individuals may develop inflammation in connective tissues, which provide strength and flexibility to structures throughout the body. Disorders involving connective tissue inflammation are sometimes called rheumatic conditions. In Sjögren syndrome, extraglandular involvement may result in painful inflammation of the joints and muscles; dry, itchy skin and skin rashes; chronic cough; a hoarse voice; kidney and liver problems; numbness or tingling in the hands and feet; and, in women, vaginal dryness. Prolonged and extreme tiredness (fatigue) severe enough to affect activities of daily living may also occur in this disorder. A small number of people with Sjögren syndrome develop lymphoma, a blood-related cancer that causes tumor formation in the lymph nodes.
When Sjögren syndrome first occurs on its own, it is called primary Sjögren syndrome. Some individuals who are first diagnosed with another rheumatic disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus, later develop the dry eyes and dry mouth characteristic of Sjögren syndrome. In such cases, the individual is said to have secondary Sjögren syndrome. Other autoimmune disorders can also develop after the onset of primary Sjögren syndrome. In all, about half of all individuals with Sjögren syndrome also have another autoimmune disorder.
How common is Sjögren syndrome?
Sjögren syndrome is a relatively common disorder; it occurs in 0.1 to 4 percent of the population. It is difficult to determine the exact prevalence because the characteristic features of this disorder, dry eyes and dry mouth, can also be caused by many other conditions. Women develop Sjögren syndrome about 10 times more often than men; the specific reason for this difference is unknown but likely involves the effects of sex hormones on immune system function.
What genes are related to Sjögren syndrome?
Sjögren syndrome is thought to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors; however, no associations between specific genetic changes and the development of Sjögren syndrome have been confirmed. Researchers believe that variations in many genes affect the risk of developing Sjögren syndrome, but that development of the condition may be triggered by something in the environment. In particular, viral or bacterial infections, which activate the immune system, may have the potential to encourage the development of Sjögren syndrome in susceptible individuals. The genetic variations that increase susceptibility may reduce the body's ability to turn off the immune response when it is no longer needed.
How do people inherit Sjögren syndrome?
A predisposition to develop autoimmune disorders can be passed through generations in families. Relatives of people with Sjögren syndrome are at an increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases, although they are not necessarily more likely to develop Sjögren syndrome in particular. The inheritance pattern of this predisposition is unknown.
Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of Sjögren syndrome?
These resources address the diagnosis or management of Sjögren syndrome and may include treatment providers.
General information about the diagnosis and management of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests.
To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.
Where can I find additional information about Sjögren syndrome?
You may find the following resources about Sjögren syndrome helpful. These materials are written for the general public.
You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.
What other names do people use for Sjögren syndrome?
What if I still have specific questions about Sjögren syndrome?
Where can I find general information about genetic conditions?
The Handbook provides basic information about genetics in clear language.
These links provide additional genetics resources that may be useful.
What glossary definitions help with understanding Sjögren syndrome?
arthritis ; autoimmune ; cancer ; chronic ; complication ; connective tissue ; immune response ; immune system ; inflammation ; inheritance ; inheritance pattern ; kidney ; lupus ; lymph ; lymphoma ; population ; predisposition ; prevalence ; susceptibility ; syndrome ; systemic lupus ; systemic lupus erythematosus ; tissue ; tumor
You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.
See also Understanding Medical Terminology.
References (10 links)
The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? in the Handbook.