Arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome

old woman with back painThis disease is often an unwelcome companion to rheumatoid arthritis or other rheumatic diseases, but it can also appear on its own. Ninety percent of people with Sjogren’s syndrome are women, and their average age is 50.

Fortunately, it progresses slowly, and doesn’t fully develop for as long as 10 years after it starts. Sjogren’s is an autoimmune condition in which immune cells attack three glands in your body. Called exocrine glands, they normally produce saliva, sweat, and tears.

With Sjogren’s, they go haywire and don’t work as they should, thus drying out your eyes, mouth, and other areas.

Symptoms. You may feel as if you have something like a grain of sand stuck in your eye, and your eyes may itch and burn. They also may be more sensitive to light. You may have mouth troubles, too: difficulty chewing and swallowing dry foods, small sores on your tongue or lips, and a burning sensation. Food may taste different than it used to. And, because you produce less saliva, which normally helps clean debris from your mouth, you’ll be more prone to cavities.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will suspect Sjogren’s syndrome because of your primary symptoms: dry eyes and mouth. She will do some detective work, such as checking your medications and asking you about over-the-counter products you may have been using, to find out if there’s another likely cause of your symptoms. She may then run a test called the Schirmer test to check how much tears and saliva you produced.

Seven people out of ten with Sjogren’s will have rheumatoid factor, so she shall probably test for that and possibly other antibodies as well. Blood tests may also called leukocutes in the blood.

Treatment

The usual approach is to try to replace the fluids you are lacking primarily by using artificial tears for our dry eyes. To ease your dry mouth your doctor will recommend drinking plenty of water avoiding alcohol and possibly switching from medications that decrease saliva flow such as some high blood pressure drugs and certain antidepressants.

You shall need more frequent dental checkups and will need to avoid the sugary foods that cause cavities. You may also need moisturizing cream for your skin.

You cannot prevent most forms of this disease. But you certainly can reduce the risk of getting significant osteoarthritis and slow its development if you already have it primarily by controlling your weight. In one study, women who lost an average of 11 pounds reduced the development of osteoarthritis in their knees.

And those overweight women who lost the most improved the most, reducing their pain and other symptoms by half. Although obviously extra weight can strain major weight-bearing joints, such as knees and hips, another study suggested that extra weight also encouraged osteoarthritis in other joints. Possibly, too much body fat directly affects our cartilage, making those extra pounds more of an enemy than we thought.

You can also help reduce your risk of early osteoarthritis by protecting yourself from injuries, say from competitive contact sports or repetitive motions. If you’re a line backer or wrestler by profession, there’s not much you can do other than use protective padding and keep in tiptop shape. But the rest of us can take all reasonable precautions.

We should always keep our muscles strong to help support our joints, and in sports we should warm up carefully, use proper equipment such as the right shoes, and follow a balanced exercise program that keeps the whole body in shape rather than just parts of it. On the job and throughout the day, we can try to find ways to avoid nonstop repetitive motion, take breaks when possible, and, again, keep our muscles strong and limber.

Gout is triggered by high levels of uric acid, which comes from a substance called purines; people prone to gout can help protect themselves by limiting their intake of alcohol and foods high in purines. These include liver, kidneys, brains, and sweetbreads.

Lyme disease can be prevented only by avoiding tick bites and getting prompt treatment if bitten. And, as far as anyone knows so far, there is unfortunately no way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have indicated that sensitivity to certain foods can trigger rheumatoid arthritis attacks in a few people, but this is rare.