By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Dry eyes, excessive thirst may be caused by Sjogren’s Syndrome
I have had extreme vaginal dryness, dry, itchy eyes and am excessively thirsty. I am extremely fatigued and every muscle in my body aches. I’m 40 years old. Could this be menopause?
The symptoms you describe could be several disorders including diabetes, peri-menopause, hypothyroidism, Sjogren’s Symdrome, as well as others. Most can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Due to lack of space, we’ll take a look at Sjogren’s syndrome today.
Imagine your eyes are filled with sand and your mouth is so dry that your gums stick to your teeth. Imagine not being able to sweat – which you need to do to survive. Imagine spending a lifetime like this. People with Sjogren’s syndrome don’t have to imagine. They know how all this feels. Two to four million Americans are thought to suffer from this condition.
Sjogren’s syndrome makes the body attack its own immune system. It strikes all ages and in both sexes but most often in women in their early 40s. Sjogren’s can appear on its own, but often it shows up in patients who also have rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But whether it strikes along with another condition or not, patients who have it experience a dramatic life change. And as yet there is no cure.
Symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include dry, itchy, painful eyes; dry nose and mouth; excessive thirst; vaginal dryness; fatigue and aching.
People with Sjogren’s have a deficiency of tears, saliva and digestive enzymes because their glands can’t make these fluids any more. Products are available that can help manage the constant dryness. Special mouthwashes, toothpastes, sugarless gum and certain prescription medications can help stimulate saliva. Artificial tears and ointments can be used to moisten itchy, painful eyes.
Besides having dry eyes and a dry mouth, Sjogren’s sufferers also can’t sweat. Since Sjogren’s affects the sense of taste and smell, most foods lose their appeal. Everything tastes like paper. The sense of smell is gone. People with Sjogren’s make all kinds of curious antibodies which may or may not be part of the disease. When the body turns its immune system on itself, there can be many complications.
Sjogren’s patients also tend to have a higher than normal rate of lymphoma, so they need to be closely monitored.
Because Sjogren’s is not a life-threatening disease, practitioners prefer not to use strong immunosupressant drugs to treat it.
Usually an anti- malarial drug like Plaquenil will be used instead. For more information: (800) 475-6473 or www.sjogrens.org.
This article was originally published March 25, 2002 in The St. Tammany News.