Conquering Sjogren’s: Follow us on our journey to change the face of Sjogren’s

Why doesn’t my doctor understand Sjögren’s?

Posted on Mon, Jan 30, 2017

Why Doesn't my doctor understand Sjogren's .pngLike many Sjögren’s patients, I find it disheartening that most doctors remain unfamiliar with the disease. First diagnosed with dry eyes and corneal abrasions at age 18, I had no idea that something bigger was brewing. Over the next three decades, not one of my multiple eye specialists asked about other symptoms that could have led to a timely Sjögren’s diagnosis. By my thirties, I had a classic Sjögren’s picture of dry eyes and mouth, flu-like fatigue, multiple gastrointestinal problems, chronic sinusitis and widespread musculoskeletal pain. Yet no one put the pieces of the puzzle together, and it wasn’t until I experienced incapacitating symptoms that Sjögren’s was even considered.

Lack of provider awareness would be understandable if Sjögren’s was a rare disease. But Sjögren’s is extremely common, affecting approximately 1% of the US population, mostly adult women.1 This is similar to the number of women living with breast cancer.2 I like to call Sjögren’s “the most common disease no one has ever heard of.”

Sarah Schafer.pngSjögren’s can be debilitating. Despite a high disease burden and increased rates of infection and heart disease, Sjögren’s still tends to be “missed and dismissed.” While direct complications such as lymphoma and organ involvement are often successfully treated, these conditions lead to death in approximately 10% of Sjögren’s patients.3,4

After years of advocating for my own care, I am now using my unique vantage point as a physician-patient to teach primary care providers (PCPs) about Sjögren’s. From discussions with recent medical school graduates, I have discovered that Sjögren’s continues to be glossed over as a mild disease, mostly about managing dryness. Medical students are rarely taught these basics: Sjögren’s is common, serious and always systemic.

The following ten points help to explain why “Sjögren’s neglect” persists in medicine. By understanding what is behind the problem, you can better advocate for yourself as a patient.

  1. Sjögren’s is a complicated disease. It takes a high index of suspicion to recognize that scattered and mostly invisible symptoms may all be related. Most Sjögren’s patients experience the triad of pain, fatigue and dryness. While only the dryness can be measured, doctors must take patient reports of pain and fatigue seriously in order to see the bigger picture. 
  1. Sicca (dryness) symptoms are often overlooked in the primary care setting. Sicca is often the best clue to diagnosis. Yet many patients do not mention dryness to their providers, thinking it unimportant or unrelated to their other symptoms. Physicians and patients alike may not recognize that burning, gritty eyes or difficulty swallowing food without liquids are dryness symptoms. 
  1. Sjögren’s patients usually look well, even when they are quite ill. There are no blood tests that correlate with the severity of the disease. This makes it easy for providers to write off patients as complaining or malingering.
  1. Misdiagnosis is common. Symptoms often overlap with more familiar conditions such as depression, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism and irritable bowel syndrome. Menopause often unmasks Sjögren’s symptoms that have been brewing for years. While these conditions may co-occur with Sjögren’s, PCPs often fail to consider the possibility of Sjögren’s as the major culprit.
  1. Delayed diagnosis. The typical Sjögren’s patient has a delay of nearly three years until diagnosis. True delays are even longer: many patients describe decades of symptoms before things got bad enough to seek diagnosis. Clearly this needs to change. PCPs need to be taught how to recognize Sjögren’s and take the first steps to diagnosis.
  1. Diagnosis can be difficult. Better tests are needed. There is no one test or group of tests that diagnoses Sjögren’s early and accurately. Many patients who do not have Sjögren’s antibodies (“seronegative”) are told they do not have Sjögren’s. Yet 30% of Sjögren’s patients are in this seronegative group. These patients typically experience even greater delays in diagnosis, because the confirming minor salivary gland biopsy is not always done, and it may take years to turn positive. Normal blood tests do not rule out Sjögren’s!
  2. Patients with serious organ system complications are often misclassified as other autoimmune diseases. This happens largely due to the ongoing misperception of Sjögren’s as a mild disease. These patients may never get properly diagnosed, perpetuating the “Sjögren’s is mild” mythology.
  1. Research neglect. Clinical studies of Sjögren’s lag far behind other connective tissue diseases. While this is changing, this lack of research keeps Sjögren’s under the radar of awareness as an important health issue.  
  1. Until 2016, no standard of care existed for Sjögren’s management. Doctors tend to be highly motivated to practice medicine within the standard of practice in their community. The recently published clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) will be a good first step in providing consistent treatment standards for rheumatologists, ophthalmologists and dentists.
  1. Rheumatologists are not always up to date on Sjögren’s management. There are still some rheumatologists- the very specialists who treat Sjögren’s- who do not consider Sjögren’s to be serious enough to warrant treatment. There are too many present day stories of patients with debilitating fatigue and pain who are refused treatment because the rheumatologist told them that “their Sjögren’s was not bad enough.” Hopefully the CPGs will provide incentive for these rheumatologists to treat Sjögren’s patients sooner. Most Sjögren’s experts with extensive clinical experience believe that treatment slows progression and prevents serious complications.  

As a Sjögren’s patient, what can you do?

  1. Make sure you are being followed by a rheumatologist, ophthalmologist and dentist who are familiar with Sjögren’s and its complications. Take a copy of the new clinical practice guidelines to your next appointment.

  2. Understand that PCPs are unlikely to be well educated about Sjögren’s, due to the many reasons listed above. However, if they are caring for you, it is their job to learn about Sjögren’s. I encourage you to refer your physicians and their office team to the SSF and sjogrens.org. The SSF will provide medical professionals with free materials to help them diagnose and manage Sjögren’s.

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seeker, SSF's member newsletter.

Click Here to Receive our Newsletter  by Becoming an SSF Member

REFERENCES:

  1. Helmick CG, Felson DT, Lawrence RC, et al. National Arthritis Data Workgroup. Estimates of prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions in the United States, Part I. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58:15-25
  2. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/breast.htm
  3. Brito-Zeron P, Ramos-Casals M, et al. Predicting adverse outcomes in primary Sjögren’s syndrome: identification of prognostic factors. Rheumatology 2007;46:1359-136
  4. Brito-Zeron, P, Ramos-Casals M. Systemic Sjögren’s: More than a sicca disease. http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/systemic-sjogrens-more-than-a-sicca-disease

 

Topics: Diagnosing Sjogren's, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Clinical Practice Guidelines

Thank You For a Year of Hope!

Posted on Thu, Dec 29, 2016

Dear Friends,

With the New Year approaching, we at the Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation (SSF) are proud of all that has been accomplished in the past year for Sjögren's patients. We want to share with you a few of the highlights from 2016 that were made possible by your support!

2016 highlights.jpg

CLINICAL PRACTICE GUIDELINES

CPGs.pngThe SSF has brought together clinical leaders and Sjögren’s experts in all areas of care to produce and publish the very first Clinical Practice Guidelines for Sjögren’s. These guidelines will help doctors and dentists in various disciplines to provide appropriate care to Sjögren’s patients and will ensure that patients receive the best treatment possible. There are currently three (3) different Guidelines that have been completed and published and they are:

  • Systemic Manifestations in Sjögren’s Patients
  • Oral Management: Caries Prevention in Sjögren’s
  • Ocular Management in Sjögren’s Patients

DRUG DEVELOPMENT

research.pngIn 2016, the SSF continued our lead in getting new therapies developed to help treat Sjögren’s. In the history of Sjögren's, there has never been so much interest in developing a therapeutic for Sjögren’s. There are currently nine companies that have shown an interest in developing a therapeutic for Sjögren’s. Each of these companies are looking to enter or have entered clinical trials in Sjögren’s. The SSF is actively engaged with these companies, as well as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies, to ensure that the patient voice is captured throughout the entire drug development pipeline. This includes discussions concerning what patients want from a therapeutic to discussions about clinical trial design.

EDUCATION & AWARENESS

Anna Lopypnski .pngThe SSF continued to expand our awareness and education campaigns throughout 2016 with the goal to not only increase awareness about the disease but also encourage healthcare providers to become more educated about Sjögren’s and its numerous complications. The ways in which this was done included adding to our patient resources; introducing new educational opportunities for patients; continuing to support, train and grow the Awareness Ambassador program; hosting more than 175 support group meetings around the country and offering a superior National Patient Conference.


 

Anna Lopynski Quote .pngTHANK YOU!

We at the SSF are grateful for all your support and what you have helped us achieve this past year, but we are most proud of each and every Sjögren's patient as they inspire and amaze us in their fight against this disease.

As 2017 quickly approaches, we know you have many options when it comes to your year-end giving. That is why we would be extremely grateful if you were to help us reach our goal of raising $12,000 by 12 midnight on December 31st by making a donation today to the Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation.

Your gift will provide critical funds to further our research, education and awareness efforts as well as help make a difference in the lives of all Sjögren's patients. We are truly thankful for every gift we receive.

Together, we can transform the future of Sjögren’s!

Make a Donation Now

Topics: Sjogren's, Research, Clinical Trials, Clinical Practice Guidelines

Ask the Expert: How will the recently published SSF Ocular Clinical Practice Guidelines for Sjögren’s affect you

Posted on Fri, Nov 11, 2016

Question_and_Answer-1.jpg"How will the recently published Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) for Ocular Management affect my next visit to my eye care professional?"

The recently published SSF Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management of Sjögren’s were developed to provide evidence-based recommendations for physicians and eye-care providers to advise a logical sequence of treatment options for dry eye. One aspect of the recommendations was to describe methods of grading the severity of dry eye disease and basing therapy on severity and the patient’s response to previous therapy. The guidelines also put into perspective some of the recently developed techniques for diagnosing dry eye and monitoring therapy.

Many of the measures described in the report have been used by practitioners in previous therapy of dry eye, but some of the newer options may not yet have been incorporated into all eye care practices and the described system of grading severity may be new to some practices. Therefore, the effect of the published guidelines may have different implications to different patients.

Your physician or eye care provider may discuss some of the newer options for diagnosis and grading of severity in particular cases. This will probably be true for the testing of tear osmolarity and testing for presence of the inflammation marker MMP-9, as those new tests are of assistance in grading severity of dry eye and recommending treatment options, as well as monitoring the effect of some treatments. Some of the recommendations for such testing may depend upon availability of the in-office tests and whether the symptoms or signs of dry eye have changed in particular patients. The provider may advise additional testing or a change in therapy, but not all patients will require such testing or altered treatment.

The treatment options recommended by a patient’s care provider will depend upon the severity of dry eye disease and the response to previous therapy as well as any existing contraindications to particular treatment options. It also is important to remember that these are recommended guidelines and not mandatory standards of care for all patients with dry eye. The clinical evaluation and overall assessment of each individual patient determines appropriate management as well as the cost/benefit balance for any given patient.

Click here to view the U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines  for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s  

by Gary N. Foulks, MD
Co-Chair of the Ocular Working Group for the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation Clinical Practice Guidelines Committee
 

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seeker, SSF's member newsletter.

Click here to learn more about the SSF Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidelines initiative   

Topics: Dry Eyes, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Ask the Expert, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management, Clinical Practice Guidelines

Clinical Practice Guidelines for Oral Management in Sjögren’s Patients: Caries Prevention

Posted on Mon, Oct 10, 2016

The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) has developed the first-ever U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Caries Prevention in Sjögren’s to ensure quality and consistency of care for the assessment and management of patients.

The SSF Clinical Practice Guidelines for Caries Prevention in Sjögren’s patients will help dentists, oral medicine specialists and Sjögren’s disease patients determine the best strategies for preventing caries due to dry mouth. The SSF Oral Working Group stresses that identification of potential Sjögren’s patients within the clinical practice is paramount for ensuring proper monitoring, timely treatment, prevention of serious complications, and referral to other specialists who can monitor and manage non-oral aspects of this disease.

Six years ago, the SSF initiated the development of clinical guideline recommendations for medical practitioners in three categories: rheumatology, oral medicine/dentistry, and ocular management. These will help to standardize patient care by giving physicians a roadmap of how to treat and manage their Sjögren's patients. 

Click here to view the SSF Caries Prevention Guidelines Summary and Recommendations.

Oral_Disease_Recommendations.png 

The SSF Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidelines initiative is funded fully by the SSF with no corporate or pharmaceutical industry support. The SSF would like to thank our committee chairmen and members of the oral working group for volunteering their time and expertise to develop these guidelines. We would also like to thank all SSF members and our generous supporters for helping to make the dream of Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidelines start to become a reality! Click here to view the U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines for  Oral Management in Sjögren’s Patients: Caries Prevention

 

Topics: Dry Mouth, Sjogren's, Tooth Decay, Treatment, Clinical Practice Guidelines, Caries Prevention

Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s

Posted on Wed, Jul 20, 2016

July is Dry Eye Awareness Month! During July, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation works to help educate the public about dry eye symptoms, treatment options, and the possible cause being Sjögren’s. We hope you enjoy our July blogs aimed to promote dry eye education and encourage you to share this post.

The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) has developed the first-ever U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s to ensure quality and consistency of care for the assessment and management of patients.

The SSF Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s established that, in a given patient, the clinician must determine whether the dry eye is due to inadequate production of tears, excess evaporation, or a combination of both mechanisms. The success of a treatment option depends upon proper recognition and approach to therapy.

Click here to view the SSF Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s and its recommendations.

CPG_Ocular.png

The SSF Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidelines initiative is funded fully by the SSF with no corporate or pharmaceutical industry support. The SSF would like to thank our committee chairmen and members of the ocular working group for volunteering their time and expertise to develop these guidelines. We would also like to thank all SSF members and our generous supporters for helping to make the dream of Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidelines start to become a reality! 

Click here to view the U.S. Clinical Practice Guidelines  for Ocular Management in Sjögren’s   

Topics: Sicca, Dry Eyes, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Punctal Plugs, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management, Clinical Practice Guidelines

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