How many people with Sjogren’s syndrome suffer memory problems?

Sjogren’s syndrome indeed can cause memory problems, even though this autoimmune condition is associated with dry mouth and dry eyes.

Because Sjogren’s (pronounced show-grens) syndrome is potentially systemic, the entire body can be affected, including organs, and this can mean the brain.

“Patients with Sjogren’s syndrome may suffer from a number of different neurologic abnormalities,” says Ali D. Askari, MD, Professor of Medicine – Case Western Reserve University; Chief, Division of Rheumatology – University Hospitals Case Medical Center; Director, Rheumatology – University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Rheumatologists often deal with Sjogren’s syndrome patients, since the disease often initially manifests with joint pain or stiffness.

Dr. Askari continues, “Unlike lupus (another autoimmune disorder which can affect the joints), which has more of central nervous system involvement, Sjogren’s syndrome has peripheral nerve involvement more commonly.”

Neurological problems affect as many as 20 percent of patients. However, Dr. Askari says that dementia is a rare complication of Sjogren’s syndrome.

“In our own study reported to the international SS conference in Japan, we found 14 of 200 patients having neurological abnormality.

“Six had variety of central nervous system involvement; only one had dementia. Dementia therefore is rare and can happen at any time.”

Though Sjogren’s syndrome is most associated with dry eyes and dry mouth, these aren’t necessarily the first presenting symptoms.

The very first symptom may be dementia, though, again, it’s a rare complication.

Dr. Askari continues, “The abnormalities of the central nervous system include abnormal MRI without any abnormal serologic findings, but also brain abnormalities such as shrinking of the brain and dementia.”

It’s possible for a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which is terminal, to actually have Sjogren’s syndrome, which is not terminal if treated and managed.

“Although this is difficult to differentiate from Alzheimer’s disease, neurologists believe that the cerebrospinal fluid contains a specific protein found mainly in Alzheimer’s.

“This protein is called Tau which is not found in Sjogren’s syndrome and dementia.

“Fogginess and slight memory loss can happen in both systemic lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome, and may respond to anti-inflammatory medicines; if not it may be associated with permanent brain changes.”

Dr. Askari adds, “The peripheral nerve involvement as mentioned is more commonly associated with Sjogren’s syndrome and that includes peripheral neuropathy or injury to the nerve fibers of the lower or upper extremities.

“In particular pure sensory neuropathy, meaning that just lack of sensation found by nerve conduction tests (EMG), is specific for Sjogren’s syndrome.”

High doses of corticosteroids and other immunosuppressant drugs, when administered early in the course of these symptoms, can bring on improvement.

If you’re suffering from what seems to be neurological or memory impairment, request tests for SS.

Dr. Askari explains, “It is prudent to consider Sjogren’s syndrome in the differential diagnosis of neurologic abnormalities and particularly abnormal findings on MRI of the brain or spinal cord, or peripheral neuropathy.”

Dr. Askari’s special interests include diseases of the muscles, fibromyalgia, general rheumatology, lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 


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