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Though there is a great deal of concern about multiple sclerosis, especially recently now that the medical community finds so many more people may have it, a greater number of people have Sjögren’s Syndrome.

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most recognized neurodegenerative diseases in the world, despite not being considered a “common” disease. It’s best known for how it reduces mobility, but it can cause a plethora of other symptoms as well. There is no known cure for the MS, but modern science has a number of options to help control and manage symptoms, as well as to slow the advancement of it, including disease modifying therapies (DMTs).

Interestingly enough, there are several other autoimmune diseases that cause nerve degeneration that are actually more common but less well known. Sjögren’s syndrome is one such disease, affecting even more people than multiple sclerosis.

The two diseases being similar in their mechanism of attack, it makes sense that some of the symptoms and expectations of progression overlap. However, there is a very distinct difference between the two to keep in mind.

What is Sjögren’s syndrome?

Like multiple sclerosis, Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system has an unusual, heightened reaction and treats elements of the body as if they are foreign toxins in the system, attacking with antibodies that cause damage to the affected part of the body.

In Sjögren’s syndrome, the first thing attacked are the glands that produce tears and saliva. However, it can spread to other parts of the body, with progression leading to attacks on kidneys, joints, blood vessels, digestive system, thyroid, liver, nerves, and lungs.

Sjögren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis: symptoms and similarities

Probably the biggest similarity between Sjögren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis is that both are autoimmune diseases, and both can attack the nervous system, with that being the main target of MS. For some reason, which could be linked to an imbalance in hormones (such as estrogen), both diseases are far more common in women, with about seventy percent of MS patients and about ninety percent of Sjögren’s syndrome patients being female. In addition, those who have a history of rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are predisposed to a higher risk of both diseases.

Several symptoms could point to either disease as a diagnosis, such as:

  • Stiffness and pain, with swelling due to inflammation in the musculoskeletal system
  • Prolonged, extensive fatigue
  • Eye pain and blurred vision
  • Difficulty speaking

Even with such similarities, Sjögren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis are very different, especially when it comes to discovery and treatment. In addition, there are several symptoms that are mutually exclusive.

Sjögren’s syndrome and multiple sclerosis: conditions and differences

Neither disease is particularly considered fatal, though extensive, untreated organ damage by Sjögren’s syndrome could lead to death. In both cases, life expectancy is close to the general average for the location, though there might be a reduction by a few years.

While both conditions require multiple tests for diagnosis, the battery of tests ordered is incredibly different. When doctors are looking for evidence of multiple sclerosis, they order an MRI, a spinal tap, blood tests, and evoked potential testing. In Sjögren’s syndrome, the regimen includes several blood tests, eye tests, imaging tests that pertain specifically to the salivary glands, and biopsy of the salivary glands looking for inflammatory cells.

Some of the symptoms of each condition aren’t typical of both. In fact, there are fairly long lists of symptoms that are excluded from one disease. Some of the things experienced by Sjögren’s syndrome patients but not by MS patients include:

  • Dry eyes and mouth due to lack of tear and saliva production
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Vaginal dryness in women
  • Dry cough that doesn’t clear up
  • Dry skin and skin rashes

By contrast, some of the symptoms related to MS that don’t often come up in Sjögren’s syndrome are:

  • Difficulty with mobility
  • Weakness in the legs and arms, as well as the neck
  • Cognitive issues, including memory retention and daily functions
  • Spasms and numbness or tingling in the limbs and face

Complications arise with Sjögren’s syndrome because of lack of tears and saliva that don’t occur with multiple sclerosis, such as more dental cavities, greater chance of developing a yeast infection in the mouth, light sensitivity due to dryness (as well as damage to the cornea), higher risk of pneumonia and other lung diseases, and greater potential for developing cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis.

While both diseases may benefit from immunosuppressants to ease the symptoms and potentially slow the advancement of the disease, the additional treatment options are very different. For multiple sclerosis, treatments such as corticosteroid infusion can help with flare ups, beta interferon can treat and reduce potential for inflammation year round, and other DMTs are available. When those no longer work, certain chemotherapy treatments are available.

Sjögren’s syndrome is treated with mainly medicines that can control or relieve symptoms, including over the counter eye drops. Other medications include non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications, a medication that helps produce more saliva, antifungals for thrush (yeast in the mouth), arthritis medications, and a medication that treats malaria, which can help with system-wide issues.

Home remedies are also offered to those with Sjögren’s syndrome, including using a humidifier and increasing fluid intake.

It’s estimated that about one million people in the United States have multiple sclerosis, while the estimates for Sjögren’s Syndrome are much higher, estimated to be between one and four million.

Conclusion

Though there is a great deal of concern about multiple sclerosis, especially recently now that the medical community finds so many more people may have it, a greater number of people have Sjögren’s syndrome. The outlook is just as hazy for these individuals, with no cure in sight. However, with the right diagnosis and the care of a physician knowledgeable about the disease, a patient can live a full, healthy life with management tools and the proper treatment. With DMTs, multiple sclerosis can be delayed in its progression, and there are many tools that can help reduce how severe symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome are. There is also greater ability to slow or stop permanent damage in both diseases with the regimen of treatments, which can also help with personal outlook on the future.

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