“I have what?! How do you even spell that??”
That was my first reaction when I was told I had Sjögren’s syndrome. Few people have heard of this particular autoimmune disorder, but I suspect it’s because it goes undiagnosed in many.
After all, the primary symptoms are pretty innocuous. Dry eyes, dry mouth, dry everything. The textbook definition describes Sjögren’s as an autoimmune disorder in which your white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands. The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation estimates that as many as 4 million Americans live with the disease. Nine out of ten, the foundation says, are women.
However, very few people talk about it, much less know what it is. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had really dry eyes. I simply chalked it up to the fact that I wear contacts and stare at a computer for eight hours straight. I’ve also had lots of trouble swallowing, something I attributed to my anatomy.
After my diagnosis, it all made sense. My desert-dry eyes weren’t a factor of my contacts or computer stare contest (although I’m sure that doesn’t help). My trouble swallowing wasn’t because my throat was too small, but because my body didn’t produce enough saliva to get the food down. And I’ve always had super-dry skin, but the jury’s still out on whether Sjögren’s is responsible for that or one of my other autoimmune disorders.
Here’s another scary statistic—half the time, Sjögren’s Syndrome occurs in conjunction with another autoimmune disorder. In my case, I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis as well as lupus.
And on the extreme end, Sjögren’s can also affect other organs, such as the kidneys, gastro system, lungs and the central nervous system. That’s why my rheumatologist checks my kidney functions every six months or so. So far, everything is ok.
Just like many other autoimmune disorders, Sjögren’s can’t be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. In fact, the drug parade that goes through my morning routine is a constant reminder of every single symptom. I was prescribed Restasis, high-powered eye drops to help with the dry eyes. I also take Salagen, a pill that treats dry mouth. My doctor also recommended taking fish oil supplements to help with overall dryness, a remedy I have yet to explore.
For the lupus, I take Plaquenil, an anti-inflammatory also known by its generic name, hydroxychloroquine. And finally, I take Synthroid (levothyroxine) to treat the Hashimoto’s.
It’s funny how you tend to overlook symptoms you’ve always learned to live with. And yet, struggling to contain the symptoms is a constant reminder that it will always be there.
About the Author
Giselle Greenwood is a former journalist. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her two healthy and active boys, a dog named Rocco and her ever-supporting husband.