?Doc, my mouth is so dry all the time. What could be the problem??

Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder ? a disorder in which your body attacks its own tissues because it thinks they are foreign. It prevents your body's exocrine (moisture-producing) gland from producing enough moisture for different areas of your body. This leads to chronic and lifetime dryness. Sjogren's syndrome affects many areas of your body. In addition to the mouth and eyes, other affected areas include the skin, vagina, respiratory tract (lungs), and gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines).

Even the pancreas and sweat glands may be affected.

People at risk include:

? Females who constitute about 90 per cent of patients

? People over the age of 40 years

? Those who have other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and scleroderma

? People on medications for allergies, high blood pressure, and depression

? People who have undergone radiation therapy

? Patients who have had bone marrow transplant

A common symptom of Sjogren's syndrome is dryness that losts a long time. Dryness may lead to other serious medical conditions including:

? Eyes (corneal ulceration, serious infections)

? Mouth (increased incidence of cavities, bronchitis, pneumonia)

Rarely, in patients who have serious autoimmune Sjogren's problems, the kidneys may be affected. A small percentage of patients will develop lymphoma.

The symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome are sometimes hard to recognize because they take a long time to develop and may look like signs of other medical conditions.

Evaluation by an experience rheumatologist is recommended.

Dr. Wei (pronounced "way") is a board-certified rheumatologist and Clinical Director of the nationally respected Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and has served as a consultant to the Arthritis Branch of the National Institutes of Health. He is a Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology and the American College of Physicians. For more information on arthritis and related conditions, go to: http://www.arthritis-treatment-and-relief.com

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