7 Symptoms of a Commonly Misdiagnosed Autoimmune Disease

Google your symptoms of fatigue, joint pain, or eye problems, and you’ll be given a list of results that will have you staring at your screen for hours. There’s no end to the amount of health conditions with similar symptoms and misdiagnoses.

In that category we have to include Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition where the body’s glands do not produce fluids. The white blood cells attack the glands, causing them to malfunction.

Sjögren’s syndrome is so common that it ranks right behind rheumatoid arthritis – the number one most diagnosed autoimmune disease – as number two. People are often misdiagnosed because the symptoms vary and can look like other health issues.

The condition affects more women than men, usually strikes in middle age or older adults, and sometimes develops in those who have other autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

It is estimated that anywhere from .1 to 4% of the population have Sjögren’s syndrome, but it is hard to get a firm estimate since many go undiagnosed. Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of Sjögren’s.

  1. Dry Eyes

    Tear ducts may become inflamed and/or not function properly. You may experience the absence of tears, itchiness, pain, or the feeling of sand in your eyes. Many report excessive use of eye drops.

  2. Dry Mouth

    As with tear ducts, the salivary glands are dysfunctional due to inflammation. It causes the feeling of cottonmouth because the body isn’t producing enough saliva. You may also have trouble swallowing due to dryness, a cracked tongue, peeling lips, or dental issues like cavities or thrush.

  3. Fatigue and Joint Pain

    Sound familiar? Swollen, painful joints and muscles may be the first or only noticeable sign of Sjögren’s in some people. The inflammation can make one feel extremely tired and achy at any time of day.

  4. Rashes

    People with Sjögren’s can be more susceptible to thin skin, dry skin, and rashes, and may notice small bumps (red or purple) on the skin. The sun can cause these rashes to flare up when the skin is thinner.

  5. Vaginal Dryness

    Painful intercourse due to less lubrication is another sign. Women may also notice frequent infections in the region due to their being less healthy flora or fluids in the vagina. Though this is a common symptom of menopause, you should pay special attention if you notice any of the other symptoms on this list.

  6. Numbness or Burning

    It is not unheard for those with Sjögren’s to experience numbness or burning in the limbs or face. You may have tingling or burning sensations in the hands, legs, or feet.

  7. Anemia

    Another effect of Sjögren’s on the body is the onset of anemia due to its impact on the blood. Some patients have pernicious anemia or low levels of vitamin B-12 in addition to anemia.

Always visit your doctor to have these symptoms checked out. Sjögren’s syndrome is typically diagnosed with blood tests, tissue biopsies, or imaging scans. Treatment varies depending on the part of the body that is affected, but may include medication, special eye drops, or oral solutions.

If left unaddressed, the disease could progress and damage organs such as the lungs or kidneys, or lead to lymphoma. See your physician!

Are you dealing with an autoimmune condition like Sjögren’s or rheumatoid arthritis? How long did it take you to get a diagnosis? What symptoms did you have?

Johns Hopkins Medicine
Mayo Clinic