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Is Sjögren’s Really Lyme Disease?

There are many conditions and diseases that present similarly enough to be mistaken for one another. In some cases, a person can be diagnosed and treated for a disease or condition when what they have is something else entirely. This issue stems primarily from non-specific symptoms that display differently in different people.

Two such diseases that can often be mistaken for one another are Lyme disease and Sjögren’s syndrome. Lyme disease, especially, can mimic a wide range of other conditions, and Sjögren’s is just one of many diseases that may be diagnosed in a person who actually has Lyme. So, is Sjögren’s syndrome a serious debilitating condition the way Lyme can be? And can Lyme disease and Sjögren’s be considered the same thing? Read on to find out more about both conditions, their connection, and how serious each one can be.

Are Sjögren’s and Lyme disease the same thing?

Lyme disease is a type of bacterial infection that develops when someone contracts the borrelia bacteria from an infected tick. The disease itself is often referred to as the “Great Imitator” because its symptoms are so general in nature and can be attributed to many different conditions. According to research, less than 25% of people with Lyme disease are correctly diagnosed with the infection. Symptoms that occur with Lyme disease include sore joints, flu-like symptoms, a bulls-eye rash at the bite site, fatigue, headache, and fever. If treatment isn’t sought shortly after the onset of the bacterial infection, it can lead to further issues such as Lyme arthritis, nerve and brain problems, and issues with heart health.

doctor examining bacteria
Image by CDC on Unsplash: Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, whereas Sjögren’s is an autoimmune disease.

Sjögren’s syndrome, on the other hand, is a chronic autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases develop when a person’s own immune system begins attacking healthy cells in their body. The healthy cells that are attacked in Sjögren’s lead to issues with moisture levels in the glands of the eyes and mouth. Unlike Lyme disease, there are two forms of Sjögren’s syndrome: primary and secondary. Primary cases occur for an unknown reason, whereas secondary Sjögren’s has an underlying cause. There is only one cause of Lyme disease – the borrelia bacteria.

Several factors may be involved in the development of Sjögren’s syndrome, such as genetics, hormones, viral infections, and other environmental factors. The most common symptoms that develop with this syndrome include:

  • Burning or redness in the eyes, or feeling as though there’s sand in the eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • An abnormal sense of taste
  • Difficulty swallowing, talking, or chewing
  • A persistent dry cough or hoarseness
  • Dry and itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged salivary glands
  • Tooth loss and accelerated tooth decay
  • Vaginal dryness

While not all the symptoms of Sjögren’s syndrome are similar to those of Lyme disease, some are. Typically, people with Lyme disease or Sjögren’s syndrome won’t experience all the symptoms at once, which makes it much more difficult to arrive at a confirmed diagnosis.

What virus causes Sjögren’s syndrome?

While it is not exactly clear how Sjögren’s syndrome develops, recent research has suggested that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may contribute to its onset. EBV belongs to the herpes family of viruses and the most well-known condition that develops if someone becomes infected is mononucleosis (or “mono”).

One particular study looked at the relationship between EBV and Sjögren’s syndrome and found that an infection with EBV may lead certain immune cells, known as T-cells, to enter into the salivary and tear glands. When this happens, B-cells, another type of immune cell, begin creating self-antibodies. The combination of T-cells and B-cells gaining access to the salivary and tear glands is possibly what leads to the development of Sjögren’s and can be driven by an EBV infection.

person asleep while ill
Image by Shane on Unsplash: What disease is similar to Sjögren’s?

Is Sjögren’s syndrome serious?

Sjogren’s syndrome is a serious condition that can lead to severe health consequences if it is left untreated. However, if a person is correctly diagnosed in a timely manner and receives proper treatment, the syndrome can be managed well and has a reduced risk of serious complications.

In the most serious cases of the disease, complications that can occur include:

  • Brain fog
  • Inflammation of the joints
  • Numbness and pain in the arms of legs
  • Lung disease
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
  • Increased risk of lymphoma
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney function issues

Seeking treatment quickly for any signs of Sjögren’s can make all the difference in managing the disease. Although Lyme disease and Sjögren’s syndrome are not the same thing, they can present similarly when it comes to long-term complications and symptoms. Getting a proper diagnosis is vital to recovering from both Lyme and Sjögren’s.

Featured image by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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