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Dry Eye and Sjogren’s Disease

By Greg Evans, OD
Venus Williams’ recent diagnosis shed light on Sjogren’s Syndrome

Venus Williams’ recent diagnosis shed light on Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which an individual’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. 

Although the hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, Sjogren’s also causes serious complications throughout the entire body which can include dysfunction of the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and the central nervous system.

The condition has been in the news of late due to Venus Williams’s recent diagnosis. Patients with Sjogren’s may experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma. Nine out of ten patients are women, and one in ten dry eye patients are thought to have Sjogren’s Syndrome.1

Delayed diagnosis

Early diagnosis and proper treatment of Sjogren’s syndrome is important. In the past, reaching a diagnosis was often difficult and the time between diagnosis and the onset of symptoms was almost 5 years. Painful lip biopsies have been the only definitive test available. In the past, testing with bloodwork failed to identify the disease in the early stages (when less organ damage was present).

Today as many as 4 million Americans are living with this disease and many are undiagnosed. If we compare this to the number of patients with rheumatoid arthritis – 1.5 million – that’s over two and half times more patients with Sjogren’s. 

New testing 

In June of 2014, a new test called SJO became FDA approved and available. The SJO is an in-office finger-prick blood sample test which is then sent out for testing. When associated with dry eye and related symptoms, it is covered under medical insurances. 

What makes SJO better is that it tests the usual biomarkers along with three novel biomarkers allowing 90-95% accuracy in diagnosis. 

When the results are positive, the patient is referred to rheumatology. Depending upon the level of severity and the involvement of other organ involvement, patients are then placed on immune-modulating medications such as plaquenil or methyltrexate to help prevent further damage. Early diagnosis can increase both life expectancy and disease-free years for patients.

Dr. Evans is the founding owner of Evans Eye Care in Palm Desert and the valley’s first practitioner to be certified by Nicox (the makers of SJO) to utilize the new Sjogren’s syndrome test. Dr. Evans can be reached at (760) 674.8806 or online at www.evanseyecare.com.

Reference: 1) www.Sjogrens.org

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