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Sjögren's Syndrome: The Link with Celiac Disease

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Autumn 2012 Issue


Image: CC--david_jones

Celiac.com 11/02/2017 - What is the link between the autoimmune diseases Sjögren's syndrome and celiac disease? In a study, 14.7% of Sjögren's syndrome patients were found to have celiac disease and 11.8% of non-celiac Sjögren's syndrome patients were found to have inflamed mucosa in the small intestine. With this knowledge, people who suffer from Sjögren's syndrome may be able to find relief for their symptoms with the gluten-free diet.

Four million Americans are suffering from a disease they don't even know they have and their doctors don't even know to test for. Sound familiar? If you're familiar with my work as a gluten-free advocate, you have probably guessed that what I'm describing is celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction triggered by gluten, a protein component in wheat, barley, and rye. If that was your guess, you would actually be wrong: there is another underdiagnosed and common autoimmune disease that we and our doctors need to be aware of—Sjögren's syndrome, which affects the exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands. Unlike celiac disease, Sjögren's syndrome doesn't have a standardized effective treatment, but fortunately, research is demonstrating a link between these two autoimmune diseases, bringing good news for Sjögren's patients who may see relief of their symptoms by eliminating gluten from their diet.

Chances are, many haven't heard of Sjögren's syndrome. This relatively unknown and underdiagnosed disease is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the tear and saliva glands of the body, reducing their production and resulting in dry mouth and eyes and other symptoms. Complications of Sjögren's include tooth decay, corneal ulcers, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In women, vaginal dryness can also be a symptom. According to the UK's National Health Service, 9 out of 10 people who suffer from this condition are women, and the average age onset is between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.

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In a study by the Institute of Medical Technology, University of Tampere, Finland, 34 Sjögren's syndrome patients and a control group of 28 people were given a small bowel biopsy; five (14.7%) of the Sjögren's patients tested positive for celiac disease and four (11.8%) of the non-celiac patients were found to have inflammation in the mucous membrane of the small intestine. According to the study's conclusions, "The findings show a close association between Sjögren's syndrome and celiac disease."

Currently, there are two classifications of Sjögren's syndrome as either primary, meaning that it has developed on its own, or secondary, which means that it has developed as the result of another autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. There is no "cure" for Sjögren's; researchers have identified a combination of factors—environmental, genetic, and hormonal, according to the National Health Service. There are a variety of treatments which can vary in effectiveness, including saliva-stimulating medication and eye drops. The good news is that Sjögren's patients who are found to be celiac may see the relief of their symptoms through a gluten-free diet, currently the effective and only treatment used for celiac disease.

Just as with celiac disease, Sjögren's syndrome is under diagnosed relative to its frequency. As a diagnosed celiac American, I consider myself very lucky that I've been correctly diagnosed with celiac disease. With the help of advocate groups all over the country, gluten-free awareness and celiac diagnosis is on the rise. By spreading the word about the association between Sjögren's syndrome and celiac disease, we can help those with Sjögren's achieve better health and quality of life.

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