Sjogren's syndrome is a disease in which the immune system turns against moisture-producing glands and causes dryness in certain areas of the body, especially the mouth and eyes. Common symptoms include dry eyes, dry mouth, and fatigue. Because there is no known cure, treatments are generally focused on providing relief from symptoms and associated complications.
Sjogren's (SHOW-grins) syndrome is an autoimmune disease -- that is, a disease in which the immune system turns against the body's own cells. With this condition, the immune system targets moisture-producing glands and causes dryness in the mouth and eyes. Other parts of the body can be affected as well, resulting in a wide range of possible symptoms.
Normally, the immune system works to protect us from disease by destroying harmful invading organisms, such as viruses and bacteria. In the case of Sjogren's syndrome, disease-fighting cells attack the glands that produce tears and saliva (the lacrimal and salivary glands). Damage to these glands keeps them from working properly and causes dry eyes and dry mouth. In technical terms, dry eyes are called keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS, and dry mouth is called xerostomia. Your doctor may use these terms when talking to you about Sjogren's syndrome.
The disease can affect other glands, too, such as those in the stomach, pancreas, and intestines, and can cause dryness in other places that need moisture, such as the nose, throat, airways, and skin.
You might hear Sjogren's syndrome referred to as a rheumatic disease. A rheumatic disease causes inflammation in joints, muscles, skin, or other body tissue, and Sjogren's can do that. The many forms of arthritis, which often involve inflammation in the joints, among other problems, are examples of rheumatic diseases.
Sjogren's syndrome is also considered a disorder of connective tissue, which is the framework of the body that supports organs and tissues (joints, muscles, and skin).