By Rebecca Sophia Meade
Since it is less common, many pregnant women are caught in surprise when they learned from their doctors that they are suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome. It is a real cause for worry and anxiety because the disease exposes their babies to higher risks for neonatal lupus, heart problems and even death. What is Sjogren’s Syndrome exactly?
Sjogren’s Syndrome and Its Symptoms
Sjogren’s Syndrome is a type of autoimmune disease primarily characterized by the drying up of the eyes and the salivary gland which may lead to the dryness of immediate body parts that require moisture including the skin, throat, vagina and nose. Sjogren’s syndrome may also affect the blood vessels, joints, lungs, digestive organs, nerves, liver, pancreas, brain and kidneys.
It primarily involves the inflammation of tissues and glands of the body. The swelling of the salivary gland usually results to cavities, dental decay, swallowing difficulties, mouth dryness, stones, mouth sores, infection of the parotid gland and mouth inflammation.
According to research, people with Sjogren’s syndrome have deficiency in Omega 3 essential fatty acids, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Aside from the dryness of the mouth and eyes, some patients suffer from symptoms such as swollen parotid glands, recurrent mouth infection, eye discomfort, hoarseness, blurred vision and difficulty in eating and swallowing. It can also cause pain and fatigue which can affect the patient’s quality of life.
It is thought by researchers that this syndrome can be attributed to a combination of environmental factors and genetic factors. In the case of Caucasians there is one specific gene that makes the person predisposed to it. Whereas in the case of those of Chinese, African, Japanese and American descent there are other genes which have been linked to it.
Researchers believe that it can be triggered by getting a viral infection.
What Is An Autoimmune Disease
When we say autoimmune diseases, it refers to the abnormal functioning of the immune system. Instead of helping the body fight against diseases, the immune system tends to attack the organs of the body. In Sjogren’s Syndrome, the immune system attacks the salivary gland which produces saliva, and the lacriminal gland which produces tears. This eventually leads to the dryness of the eyes and mouth.
Risk Factors For Sjogren’s Syndrome
According to research, this autoimmune disease can occur to people of all ages but it is more common to people who are over 40 years of age, and women are 9 times more susceptible to this condition compared to men.
Even people diagnosed with rheumatic diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis are at a greater risk of suffering from Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Sjogren’s Syndrome in Pregnant Women
Women who have been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome should consult their doctors especially when they are planning to get pregnant. It can actually increase a woman’s risk for miscarriage. Women who are suffering from this condition usually have antibodies known as antiphospholipids. It makes the blood more prone to clotting. Thus, miscarriage is more likely to occur when the blood in the placenta has clotted.
Many babies are lost during the course of pregnancy due to this condition. It actually causes the amniotic fluid to be filled with hardened crystal-type particles which can suffocate and kill the developing baby in the uterus.
In rare cases, this autoimmune disease can cause congenital heart block which is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm or rate in infant. When this happens, doctors usually prescribe corticosteroid medications to reduce the inflammation.
Also, doctors have to carefully monitor the baby’s condition throughout the pregnancy. According to research, congenital heart block sometimes necessitates early delivery. In very rare cases, Sjogren’s syndrome increases the fetus’ risk for heart problems. Also, it heightens the baby’s susceptibility to lupus.
Treatment Options For Sjogren’s Syndrome
In most cases, treatments for Sjogren’s syndrome are directed towards providing relief to its symptoms. Some doctors recommend the use of eye drops which can reduce the inflammation of the glands surrounding the eyes, in order to increase the production of tears. Frequent intake of water, saliva substitutes and chewing gum can also help in preventing the mouth from getting dry. Meanwhile, for nasal dryness, patients can use nasal saline irrigation and humidifiers.
Sucking on glycerine swabs and sugarless lemon drops can also help in inducing the production of saliva. Also, drinking plenty of fluid and getting adequate dental care can help in preventing mouth dryness. Saliva stimulants such as cevimeline and pilocarpine can also help in addressing dry mouth.
Surgery may sometimes be prescribed by doctors in order to seal the tear ducts which drain tears from the eyes. Silicone plugs or collagens are then inserted into the ducts for temporary closure. Eventually, collagen dissolves and silicone plugs are removed. In this case, doctors may recommend laser to seal the ducts permanently.