Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that is manifested by chronic dryness in the mouth, eyes, throat, genitals and digestive tract. The condition is not entirely understood, but doctors believe there is some link with thymus and parasympathetic nervous system failures. It is also linked to other autoimmune diseases, including thyroid disease and lupus. Although dryness in the mouth and eyes tend to receive the most attention in terms of symptoms, many Sjogren’s patients suffer from gastrointestinal difficulties.
Why Gastrointestinal Problems?
Gastrointestinal secretions often decrease in patients with Sjogren’s Syndrome, including a decrease in the mucous that lines the gastrointestinal tract. According to Dr. Joop D van de Merwe, Sjogren’s can also cause inflammation of the stomach lining, which can lead to pain and stomach upset. Decreased saliva production can make it difficult to swallow foods and can cause pain in the esophagus.
Like all Sjogren’s Syndrome symptoms, these gastrointestinal problems may go through periods of flare-ups and remissions.
Sjogren’s syndrome patients may face a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms. Some may develop sensitivities to certain foods while others may experience general symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome that are not specific to particular foods: gas, bloating, heartburn and diarrhea. Decreased gastrointestinal mucous and other fluids may also cause constipation. Not every Sjogren’s patient experiences these symptoms, and when they do, severity differs from patient to patient.
The best dietary solution to gastrointestinal flare-ups is to determine the foods make symptoms worse and to avoid them. Although some trigger foods are specific to individual patients, doctors recommend avoiding spicy and acidic foods and alcohol across the board. If esophagus pain is a problem because of decreased saliva and difficulty swallowing, sticking to soft foods and liquids or dipping foods in sauces can help. Avoiding crunchy foods can also help, as well as eating foods at room temperature instead of hot.
According to the LifeExtension group, essential fatty acids have shown promise in lessening Sjogren’s symptoms. Consider taking omega-3, omega-6, evening primrose oil and cytokines supplements. L-glutamine may be beneficial in specifically addressing digestive problems by improving mucous secretions. Over the counter heartburn and stomach upset medications can also help manage some of the symptoms.
Steroids sometimes are prescribed to treat Sjogren’s symptoms, but these often cause stomach upset themselves. Be sure to discuss your gastrointestinal problems with your doctor before taking steroid treatment.
Celiac Disease and Getting Help
Some Sjogren’s Syndrome patients are also diagnosed with celiac disease. Patients with celiac disease cannot digest foods with gluten. Doctors are unsure why there is a link between Sjogren’s and celiac, but it is important to let your doctor know about your intestinal problems, so you can be tested for this condition. Your doctor can also help you come up with an eating plan that gives you the nutrients you need without making your symptoms worse.