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

Sjögren’s Top 5: What Your Rheumatologist Should be Monitoring For

Posted on Tue, Oct 31, 2017


Daniel Wallace.pngPatients with Sjögren’s usually see their autoimmune treating physician several times a year. Mostly, they are rheumatologists, but can also be primary physicians, internists or subspecialists such as interested pulmonary or hematology doctors. In addition to taking a history, performing a physical examination, or drawing blood tests, are there things that should be specifically looked at or monitored for? This article reviews the top five items.

1. Is there evidence for extraglandular Sjögren’s?

Some people with extraglandular Sjögren’s may have interstitial lung disease, renal tubular acidosis, swollen lymph glands, or inflammatory scarring of the bile ducts (biliary cirrhosis). Being identified with extraglandular Sjögren’s usually warrants systemic immune suppressive therapy with agents such as azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide or rituximab. The treating physician should use their tools to screen for the spread of Sjögren’s to new areas with imaging or laboratory testing, which allows one to be proactive and treat the disease early.

2. Screening for lymphoma

Over a 15-20 year period of observation, 8-15% of Sjögren’s patients develop a lymphoma. Screening for symptoms of early lymphoma include asking a patient about swollen glands, fevers, weight loss and new onset of fatigue. A physical examination can detect lymph nodes, evidence for a “wasted” appearance, or an enlarged spleen. I perform a serum protein electrophoresis (a $30 blood test) on my Sjögren’s patients every 6 months. Often, early lymphomas can be detected with the development of an extra protein on this determination, which is known as a “MGUS” or monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance. Most Sjögren’s associated lymphomas are of a specific variety known as “MALT” that, if identified early, responds well to treatment.

3. Looking for overlapping Sjögren’s

Sjögren’s patients can have features of other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory myositis, biliary cirrhosis, scleroderma, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or lupus, while still being “mostly” Sjögren’s. These features may warrant certain anti-inflammatory interventions. This would include corticosteroids for inflamed muscles, drugs that promote more oxygen to dilate the vessels of the hands for individuals with Raynaud’s (often seen with scleroderma or lupus), approaches that halt the development of erosions (bone destruction) with rheumatoid arthritis (e.g., anti-TNFs), ursodiol for biliary cirrhosis, antimalarials for subacute cutaneous lupus rashes in anti-SSA positive patients or thyroid. Identification of a secondary autoimmune overlap can often explain symptoms that may be profound but are not a part of Sjögren’s.

4. Don’t unnecessarily treat Sjögren’s for symptoms that are not related

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Sjögren’s patients may have high blood pressure, depression and diabetes, as does 25% of the United States. Medications given for these conditions can make dry eye or dry mouth symptoms more severe. Treating such patients with anti-inflammatory medications or diuretics (water pills) is not advisable. Before altering one’s Sjögren’s medications or their environment, the physician should strive to rule out co-morbidities or co-existing circumstances that may seemingly worsen Sjögren’s symptoms. 

5. Screening for head and neck emergencies or ares associated with non-extraglandular Sjögren’s

Patients with Sjögren’s whose disease is confined to the salivary glands, eye, head and neck areas occasionally develop complications, which may mandate emergent treatment. These include acute inflammation of the parotid gland (parotitis, or Mikulicz’s syndrome, with either a stone or focus of inflammation, treated with corticosteroids), corneal ulcerations, blocked salivary ducts (affecting the mouth), and dental caries or abscesses. Most Sjögren’s patients see a dentist 2-3 times a year to get their teeth cleaned, and are often frequent return visitors to their otolaryngologist (ENT doctor). 

In summary, screening for the five features reviewed above, can prevent or promote early treatment of the overwhelming complications with Sjögren’s.

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seekers, SSF's patient  
newsletter for members. 

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Topics: Depression, Treatment, Top 5 Tips, coping with sjogren's, Raynauds, Lupus, Lymphoma, Ask the Expert, Methotrexate

Headaches and Sjögren’s

Posted on Thu, Aug 31, 2017

Headaches and Sjogren's.png

Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease often characterized by dryness of the eyes and mouth and accompanied by chronic fatigue and musculoskeletal pain. Over half of Sjögren’s patients experience systemic symptoms, some of which can involve the nervous system. One of the most common symptoms involving the nervous system is headache. Headaches are a common complaint in healthy people who do not have an autoimmune disease. Some of the most common types of headaches include tension type headaches, migraines (with and without aura), and cluster headaches. Headaches are common in Sjögren’s, estimated to occur in roughly 50 to 75% of patients.

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Many Sjögren’s patients may wonder whether or not their underlying autoimmune disease is causing the headaches. Although the answer to this question is largely unknown, some research comparing Sjögren’s patients with healthy controls show that tension-type headaches and migraine headaches, the most common headache subtypes found in Sjögren’s, are more common in those with Sjögren’s than in the general population. Other data demonstrate headaches are more severe in those with Sjögren’s than in those of the general population with depression as a significant influence on headache severity.

Sjögren’s patients may also develop a rare and particularly severe type of headache caused by inflammation of the outer lining of the brain (the leptomeninges) called aseptic meningitis. Although meningitis in general is typically caused by infectious agents like viruses and bacteria, in aseptic meningitis, the inflammation is not caused by infection but rather by other causes such as a reaction to a medication or autoimmune activity. In addition to headaches, aseptic meningitis may also be associated with fever, neck stiffness, and other neurologic symptoms such as double vision. 

In general, treatment for routine headaches is the same in those with Sjögren’s as it is for anyone else including medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Treatment for aseptic meningitis may also involve glucocorticoids such as prednisone. For those Sjögren’s who suffer from headaches, it is important to discuss this symptom with the primary care practitioner and rheumatologist to see if further evaluation is warranted.

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seekers, SSF's patient  
newsletter for members. 

Click Here to Receive our Newsletter  by Becoming an SSF Member

Topics: Depression, Symptoms, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Headaches

Ask the Expert: Frequent Bladder Infections and Sjögren’s

Posted on Thu, Aug 17, 2017

Question_and_Answer.jpg“I’ve recently started experiencing frequent bladder infections, could this be associated with my Sjögren’s?"

Sjögren’s is an autoimmune disease that causes dryness in the body, including the vaginal area. Vaginal dryness may result in discomfort during sexual intercourse and an increase in the risk of bacterial and fungal vaginal infections. Painful urination, a common symptom of UTIs, also can occur with vaginal infections. 

If you are find that you are experiencing symptoms similar to those of a urinary tract infection — urinary frequency, urgency and pain — make sure that you ask your doctor for a full urine culture.  These urinary symptoms in the absence of bacteria, could point to Interstitial Cystitis (IC) and should be further investigated with the help of an urologist. 

Research about the overlap of IC and Sjögren’s is limited, however, case reports are beginning to pop up in the clinical literature. And, the Social Security Administration (SSA) lists Sjögren’s in the Social Security Disability Insurance guidelines and highlights IC as one of many overlapping conditions experienced by people with Sjögren’s.

Although a universal cause for IC (such as a biomarker) has not been found, postulated causes include reoccurring bladder infections, pelvic dysfunction, and it being an autoimmune condition.

by Jennifer Zuzelski,  Program Manager/Information Specialist, Interstitial Cystitis Association

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seekers, SSF's patient  
newsletter for members. 

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Comment below and let us know what questions you would like answered in upcoming issues of The Moisture Seekers.

Topics: Symptoms, Treatment, Vaginal Dryness, Disability, Ask the Expert, Bladder Infections

What You Need to Know About Sjögren’s Clinical Trials

Posted on Tue, Jun 13, 2017

clinical trial.jpgClinical trials are a crucial element in medicine and health care to help develop drugs that will treat or possibly cure certain diseases. Researchers use clinical trials to test if a drug works, how well it works, how safe it is and how it compares to any currently available treatments.

Before a drug can be tested on human patients, it is tested for years in labs. Clinical trials are among the final steps of the drug development process. When drugs are brought to clinical trials, pharmaceutical companies must find enough patients to participate in the research in order to get solid results. The rarer the condition, the more difficult it can be to find the number of patients needed for a trial.

Considerations for Participating in a Clinical Trial

If you have been diagnosed with Sjögren’s and are thinking about participating in a clinical trial, there are several factors you should consider. You can learn about trials taking place in your area on the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation’s website by clicking here. When researching details of potential trials that might work for you, find out the risks and benefits of each trial, ask if there are any costs that you may be responsible for associated with participation, and most importantly, talk to your doctor about whether or not the trial is right for you.

One specific consideration for participating in a Sjögren’s study is your diagnosis. In some cases, the diagnostic criteria in the study protocol may be different than the criteria your doctor used in your diagnosis.

Clinical trials can help patients gain access to new drugs and expert medical care, while contributing to important medical research benefiting the larger community. However, patients should not enter a clinical trial without considering the risks and costs to themselves as well – the medication might not work, or might have unpleasant side effects; the time and travel to the study site, time for study visits and absences from work might be costly; and once the trial is complete, the treatment may still need to undergo months of approvals before you can have regular access to it. Additionally, as a patient in a clinical trial, you may receive a placebo drug or therapy instead of the new treatment being studied. Even if you are a patient receiving a placebo, you will still receive basic standard of care and medical oversight for your condition.

How do Clinical Trials Work?

Clinical trials vary greatly depending on the type of study and the treatment being tested. Each trial is usually funded, or sponsored, by a pharmaceutical company, academic research center, or federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Studies take place across the U.S. and even globally, at hospitals, physician offices, clinics and more – one study might have researchers conducting the trial in many different locations.

Prior to enrolling, you should know how long the study is expected to last, where you will need to go and what you will need to do in order to participate, how your participation will be compensated for – or if you will be compensated for your participation and more. These questions can be answered during discussions with the doctor or staff running the study. If you are still interested in participating, the study staff will usually schedule a screening visit. The details of screening appointments varies from study to study, but all screening appointments are used to determine your eligibility for the trial. Depending on the therapy being studied, screening appointments might look to learn your medical history; run blood, urine or tissue samples; and learn what medications you are currently taking.

Following the screening, the team running the study will contact you to let you know if you qualify for the trial or not. If you do qualify, you will be scheduled for your first study visit, which will help establish the baseline of your participation in the study. Again, the specifics will vary in each trial, but the doctor might run tests or draw labs, as well as give you the drug being studied and instructions for dosing and any reporting you may need to do. This first visit will also give you a chance to schedule future visits.

Throughout the duration of the study, you will need to attend appointments at various intervals. Some studies require regular visits or even hospital stays, while others can be done less frequently. As a study progresses, you may need to be seen less frequently. At each visit, the doctor may re-run tests or labs to compare against the baseline. You also may be given more medication at each visit.

When the study comes to an end, you will need to turn in any unused medication and reporting documents. The doctor will perform tests, labs or procedures similar to what was done during your screening or baseline appointments to see if the drug has made an impact on your health. The doctor may be able to tell you what treatment you received during the study once the study is complete. Once the clinical trial is completed, you will need to revert to your previous physician, if different, and treatment schedule.

Deciding to join a clinical trial can be a difficult decision, but taking part can help researchers learn more about potential treatments for your condition. If you carefully consider the risks and rewards, and arm yourself with information before committing to a study, participating can be a very rewarding experience.

by Kristen Snipes, Project Director at Rho, a Clinical Research Organization

This information was first printed in The Moisture Seeker, SSF's patient  
newsletter for members. 

Click here to learn more about  Sjögren’s clinical trials

Topics: Treatment, Advocacy, Clinical Trials

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

How to Talk With Your Family about Sjögren’s

Posted on Thu, Dec 15, 2016

There is a growing body of evidence that rich social support networks are important to overall health, immune function and healing. They improve quality of life and facilitate coping with chronic illness. Conversely, negative social interactions create a stress response that have the opposite effect. Support from family members and close friends can be one of the most important resources for you to draw on when dealing with Sjögren’s. Skillful communication about your illness is key to nourishing the relationships that matter the most to you. This article only attempts to skim the surface of this complex topic. 155698-350x233-talking-with-doctor.jpg

Three characteristics of Sjögren’s create particular communication challenges.

1. Untimely: Sjögren’s is typically diagnosed in the prime of life (40s and 50s), when family responsibilities and careers are in full swing.

While some are lucky enough to have mild symptoms, the majority of patients experience flu-like fatigue, pain and brain fog that demand a new, strict energy budget. Jobs may be lost or hours cut. Frequent medical and dental visits and costly products such as artificial tears strain both schedules and finances. Family dynamics are rearranged by the illness, causing stress, especially if there is little support or strong disagreement about how to meet the new challenge. Single people who become ill may feel particularly vulnerable and alone, wondering how will they ever manage.

2. Uncertain: Early on, many patients have a hard time accepting that this disease will be a lifelong challenge. The sense of loss and fear of long term illness can be profound for both patients and loved ones.

Symptoms may wax and wane for no obvious reason, although they rarely disappear. This can add to confusion and denial. The initial focus of patients and family members is often “how can we x this?” Denial can make adjustment to a new normal even more protracted. Sometimes denial persists for years, until it becomes clear that medications and other interventions cannot bring back “life as usual.”

3. Invisible: Sjögren’s patients tend to look well most of the time, even when feeling quite ill.

The outward appearance of normalcy can make it hard for others to appreciate the severity of your illness. This is made worse when doctors don’t address symptoms such as fatigue and pain that make it a struggle to get through the day. Even though Sjögren’s is quite common, most doctors are not trained to recognize even typical systemic symptoms, and tend to focus on dryness. Some medical websites reinforce this incorrect notion that Sjögren’s is mostly about dryness, rather than a serious systemic disease. When presented with this inaccurate portrayal of the disease, family members and patients become understandably confused. Healthcare providers frequently minimize life-changing symptoms or even become dismissive, leaving the patient feeling powerless or invisible. When family members also fail to understand the devastating impact that Sjögren’s can have, the emotional turmoil can be overwhelming.

As a result of widespread misinformation, patients find themselves needing to become “experts” in their disease. Backed with up-to-date knowledge, it is possible to advocate for care and educate health care providers when needed. An excellent, reliable source of information can be found at the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) website, www.sjogrens.org. Be sure to read or reread the “About Sjögren’s” section, especially the FAQ. Encourage family members to read it too. It’s really good. It might seem overwhelming and a bit disheartening that you need to learn so much about Sjögren’s, especially early after diagnosis. However, educating yourself will provide essential tools for communication with family, friends and doctors.

Communication with family members

Spouses/partners and other family members suffer grief and loss too. It is important to acknowledge this. Open the discussion early. Ask about their fears regarding the impact of your illness and the uncertainly it creates. Be prepared to revisit this conversation several times. Both you and your significant others will go through loss and grief, although the timing and process is different for each individual.

In spite of your best efforts toward clear, empathic communication with your family, some people may respond with judgment and blame. This often comes as a painful surprise, especially at a time when support feels most needed. Relationship upheaval is typical for people with serious illness. It is important not to blame yourself for the illness, but to develop good self-care with an attitude of deep kindness toward yourself. Attempt to keep lines of positive communication open, but set boundaries to protect yourself from negativity.

While unsupportive family members may eventually shift their stance, the approach of trying to educate them repeatedly after several unsuccessful attempts will only result in unnecessary pain. Just having one or two people in your life who truly “get it” can be enough. Recognize that some people may be good at practical support, but unavailable emotionally. The reverse may also occur.

Practical support tips

Practical support, especially from family members, can go a long way in helping you manage your health. Most Sjögren’s patients can participate in a number of activities, especially when family members take over tasks that are particularly challenging for you to do. It takes some trial and error to learn what you can do without compromising your health. Being a good observer of your unique patterns will help you plan the types of activities and pacing that works for you. Even with careful planning, the unpredictable nature of Sjögren’s will sometimes knock you down when you don’t expect it. It is always good to have a backup plan ready- and soup in your freezer!

Many people are happy to help, but might not ask or could assume you are doing ne if you have a partner or other adults in the home. It can be difficult to ask for help, especially if you are the “can do” type of person. It is good to remember that providing support can be beneficial to both givers and recipients. Sometimes support arrives from people you don’t expect to come through, while those you think of as close friends or family may not provide support.

Examples of useful responses and communication tools

  ♦ If you are unsure of a person’s awareness or interest, you can ask: “I’m not sure how much you know about Sjögren’s- do you want to know more about what’s really going on with me?

  ♦ When someone asks if they can help, try to be ready with a specific request such as stopping by with dinner, running errands, childcare, etc. If you are caught off guard, a good response might be: “Can I get back to you? I could really use help but I am feeling too overwhelmed to think about it right now.”

  ♦ State your limitations and needs, clearly and without apology. If you are too tired to cook, shop or clean, state that and request specific help from household members. For example: “I’m not well enough to do housework right now. Could you please vacuum and clean the bathrooms once a week?” as opposed to the more vague, “I need more help with the cleaning.”

  ♦ Many people go into advice giving mode, offering instant remedies such as the latest diet, various medical regimens, healers etc. This may be motivated by a true desire to help, or it can be a way to distance themselves from your experience. Some possible responses: “Thanks for your concern, I am working closely with my doctor on this,” or “I appreciate your concern. I need to do this in my own way and in my own time. It would be great if you could support my choices.”

  ♦ Dealing with insensitive and judgmental comments, especially if repeated, is difficult. One strategy is to provide the speaker with an opportunity to consider the hurtfulness of their comments, by asking: “Let me understand. Are you saying (repeat hurtful comment)?” The person may back pedal or give their comment more thought. This does not always work. Here are examples of responses to real life comments:

  ♦ “If you just stopped taking all those medications, you would be fine.”

  ♦ Response: “What I’m hearing you say is you think Sjögren’s is not serious enough to require medication.”

  ♦ “If you would exercise/lose weight/eat paleo etc. you would be fine.”

  ♦ Response: “Do you think if I (fill in the blank) my Sjögren’s will go away?”

  ♦ To a more subtle comment insinuating you are not trying hard enough: “I’m hearing you say that if I tried harder that I could do _______ (fill in activity) and still manage my Sjögren’s symptoms.”

  ♦ If responses like this do not work, set boundaries: “It hurts to hear you say this. I am doing my best. Please keep these comments to yourself.”

It can be especially difficult when someone close to you clearly does not understand your illness or support your efforts to take care of yourself. Relationships that were difficult to begin with may become even more painful. Some relationships do not survive the stress of chronic illness. Family members have a limited capacity for emotional or practical support. If you don’t feel supported by those closest to you, being creative about organizing your life, getting support from others, and setting excellent boundaries may be your best strategy. If you are dealing with a close relationship that seems to be faltering, it can be helpful to seek professional support from someone knowledgeable about chronic disease.

Most importantly, know that the news here is not all bad. Many people do step up to the plate, although they may need prompting. Be patient if they are trying to understand; it takes time to adjust and to learn about Sjögren’s. 

by Sarah Schafer, MD and Sjögren’s Patient
Special acknowledgment to Teri Rumpf, PhD and Julia Oleinik, RN for their contributions to this article

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

Take Control of Your Health!  Receive our Newsletter by Becoming an SSF Member

Topics: Depression, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Advocacy

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, Serum Tears, Clinical Practice Guidelines for Ocular Management, Clinical Practice Guidelines

Managing Sjögren’s Vasculitis

Posted on Sun, Oct 30, 2016

Ask the Expert:
“How can I manage my vasculitis so that it doesn’t become too severe?”

Vasculitis usually manifests with purplish skin lesions on the legs and sometimes the trunk. It is usually associated with high levels of gammaglobulin in the serum. The skin may become easily irritated and even break down in areas where numerous lesions develop. The skin around the ankles is most susceptible. Skin break-down and ulcerations may form.

Although severe vasculitis from Sjögren’s may require hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), oral corticosteroids and immunosuppressive medications, milder forms can be managed with simple conservative measures.

TMS October 2016.pngSkin breakdown occurs with greater frequency when there is fluid accumulation around the ankles so measures that minimize edema (excess fluid accumulation) in the legs can be helpful. Such measures include elevation of the legs and the use of support hose. When sitting, your legs should be propped up on a chair and not left dangling for too long. Support hose to control edema should be of the above-knee variety. Hose that bunch up below the knee may actually act like a tourniquet and impede blood flow in the legs making edema worse.

Mild trauma to the skin of the legs can also favor skin ulceration so wearing pants may provide an extra layer of protection. Edema can also be controlled with diuretics. Some patients with vasculitis may benefit from low dose aspirin to keep the blood vessels open.

Of course these conservative measures should also be applied in instances when immunosuppressive therapy is needed. Consult with your doctor if diuretic therapy or low dose aspirin is right for you.

by Herbert S. B. Baraf, MD, FACP, MACR

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

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Topics: Plaquenil, Sjogren's, Treatment, Dry Skin, Immunosuppressant, Ask the Expert, Hydroxychloroquine, Vasculitis

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.

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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

Back to School, Back to Sjögren’s Basics

Posted on Mon, Sep 12, 2016

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This fall, as students around the country begin to head back to school and get ready for a new year, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) is using this time to write about “back to basics” in terms of managing your Sjögren’s health. In this blog post, we have focused on the fundamentals that can often be forgotten in the busy day-to-day life.

Your medical team:

As most of you know, rheumatologists have the primary responsibility for managing Sjögren’s and usually are the lead of your “medical team.” That is why, when seeing a new physician or any of your many specialists, it is important to establish clear guidelines regarding your medical management, which means clarifying what things that doctor will be managing versus what your rheumatologists and/or primary care physician will oversee. All of these healthcare providers make up your “medical team.” However, it is crucial that your lead physician has all of the information regarding your diagnoses, treatment plans and prescriptions that your entire medical team is providing. This will help the lead physician better manage your case.

It is important to find a doctor who is both a good partner in treating your disease, as well as a good listener. While we know this can be very difficult, it is needed to make sure you are getting the attention your disease requires.

What medications to ask your doctor about:

A Sjögren’s patient’s treatment path should be decided on a case-by-case basis after the potential benefits and side-effects are weighed by patients and their healthcare providers. Currently, a number of different medications are available that might be used to manage symptoms. However, at the present time there is no single medication that has been conclusively proven to slow the progression of Sjögren’s or cure the disease.

Success in using disease-modifying agents to treat closely related disorders like systemic lupus and/or rheumatoid arthritis has led physicians to utilize some of these treatments in Sjögren’s as well. The two most popular choices at present include Plaquenil® (hydroxychloroquine)® (hydroxychloroquine) and intravenous rituximab. The decision to prescribe these specific medications is made on a case-by-case basis after careful consideration of potential risks and benefits.

In addition, many patients also are prescribed corticosteroids as well as prescription products to treat their various symptoms including but not limited to dry eyes, dry mouth, gastrointestinal and joint pain symptoms. As the SSF continues to release Sjögren’s Clinical Practice Guidline Sheets, be sure to ask you physician about the recommend treatment options listed. 

The SSF is dedicated to research into studies that help us better understand the full benefit of these treatments as well as working with companies to help develop new therapeutics that can treat the disease as a whole. The SSF is excited about the current pipeline for treatments that are being investigated by companies, and we continue to be at the forefront at working with and encouraging these companies to move forward.

What to take to a doctor’s appointment:

You should be prepared for a new doctor’s appointment and know your specific objectives for that visit. If this is your first visit to a doctor, it is essential to give them a copy of all your medical records. They will not have time to read it over there during your appointment, but they can keep it on file to review after your first visit.

It is also key to show your physician that you want to be an active participant in your care. Make sure to tell them about all of your daily care. Bringing with you a typed list of medications with dosage (including over-the-counter products and supplements) can be helpful.

In addition, keeping a symptoms journal or diet journal can be beneficial to recognize new or worsening symptoms along with foods that can trigger a are. Click here for the “Tracking Your Sjögren’s Symptoms” worksheet.

And finally, if you have questions for that healthcare provider, bring a list and hand it to them to review. This will help expedite their answers and make sure you get as many answers as possible in one appointment. The healthcare provider can sometimes quickly review a list of questions and tell you which ones are most important to be concerned about and which questions he/she can address at another appointment. Not only will you leave with more answers but your healthcare provider will appreciate your organization.

Find support:

As a Sjögren’s patient, you face the challenge every day of coping with this debilitating disease. Though there are an estimated four million Americans living with Sjögren’s, being diagnosed with an invisible illness can be isolating, which is why it is important to find support and credible information.

Signing up to receive The Moisture Seekers newsletter by becoming a member of the Foundation is your first step! Please share the articles in the newsletter that you find helpful with not only your physician, but family and friends to start a dialog about what you are going through.

Secondly, think about what works best for you in regards to how you can learn and gather information. Patients find different ways to learn how to live with Sjögren’s and here is a listing of just a few:

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Topics: Depression, Sjogren's, Treatment, coping with sjogren's, Immunosuppressant, Rituxan

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