Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sjogren's Syndrome Glossary

Image by bobrus

All medical conditions have a language all their own, and Sjogren's syndrome is no exception. When I was first diagnosed, I spent a great deal of time reading everything I could about autoimmune disease. Fully half of that time was spent learning the meanings of the words used in that information. 

For those just beginning the process of learning about Sjogren's syndrome, here's a brief definition list taken from The New Sjogren's Syndrome Handbook edited by Daniel J. Wallace, M.D., Oxford University Press, 2005. (Non-indented comments mine.) 
autoimmunity: A state in which the body inappropriately produces antibodies against its own tissues. The antigens are components of the body.  
An understanding of autoimmunity is vital to understanding the basics of Sjogren's syndrome. This very complex relationship between specific blood cells and tissues can cause major disruption in the body.  You can read more about autoimmunity on the National Institutes of Health website, here
B cell or B lymphocyte: A white blood cell that makes antibodies.
Healthy B cells will not attack healthy body tissues. Autoimmune B cells mistakenly identify body tissue as an invader, and will attempt to destroy these tissues. 
cornea: The clear "watch-crystal" structure covering the pupil and iris (colored portion of the eye). It is composed of several vital layers, all of which are functionally important.  The surface layer, or epithelium, is covered by the tears, which lubricate and protect the surface. 
A classic symptom of Sjogren's syndrome is dryness of the eyes, which may inflame and irritate the cornea. Dry eye is also referred to as sicca syndrome, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca. 
exocrine glands: Glands that secrete mucous.
These glands are also commonly the target of autoimmune cells. An  exocrine gland which is involved in Sjogren's syndrome is the saliva gland, resulting in reduced or absent saliva production. The resulting dry mouth symptom is a hallmark for Sjogren's syndrome. There are three pairs of major salivary glands: the parotids, located in front of the ear, the sublingual glands, located under the tongue, and the submandibular glands, located under the lower jaw. 
lacrimal glands: Two types of glands that produce tears. Smaller accessory glands in the eyelid tissue produce the tears needed from minute to minute. The main lacrimal glands, located just inside the bony tissue surrounding the eye, produce large amounts of tears. 
Decreased or absent tear formation is also a defining symptom of Sjogren's. 
puncta: Small holes in the eyelids that normally drain tears. Patients with severe dry eye benefit from punctal closure, which allows maximal tear preservation.
Punctal closure can be effected by several measures. Silicone plugs may be used, or a surgical procedure to close the puncta. 
Sjogren's Antibodies: Abnormal antibodies found in the sera (liquid part of the blood) of Sjogren's syndrome patients. These antibodies react with the extracts of certain cells, and a test based on this principle can be helpful in the diagnosis of Sjogren's syndrome. 
Examples of these antibodies are anti-SSA (anti-Ro), or anti-SSB (anti-La). 
xerostomia: Dryness of the mouth caused by the arresting of normal salivary secretions. It occurs in diabetes, drug therapy, radiation therapy, and Sjogren's syndrome.
There are numerous good sources of information regarding Sjogren's and other autoimmune diseases. Among them are the National Institutes of Health, the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation

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