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Gaslighting and Sjogren's Syndrome: One Woman's Story

Updated: Apr 22

Many people with autoimmune illnesses know how it feels to be told that their symptoms are “all in their head.” This is unfortunately a common story, especially for women. One day, my patient developed pain all over her body. She did not pay too much attention to it until the pain became severe. She saw several physicians and was initially diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Along with the pain came extreme fatigue. None of her doctors had much to offer and she started being depressed. Maybe "It was" all in her head after all. She suffered like this for several years and then developed more pain, this time in her joints. She also kept having to drink water because she felt so dry, but no one ever asked her about that. And maybe it was her medications? Her family was also getting concerned about her, so her daughter offered her a Comprehensive Plan of Care package with our UnabridgedMD practice. This happened in the first week of opening the UnabridgedMD practice. I am so glad she came. The diagnosis was not hard to make. It was typical Sjogren syndrome.

Sjogren Syndrome is the most common autoimmune disorder. In France, we learn that it affects 1% of the population. Although the US has more variety in their population, is is still pretty high here too. That's a lot of patient suffering with Sjogren. It isn's just important to relieve the symptoms, we need to follow patients with Sjogren regularly as they can develop severe complications. In the case of the patient I described above, we made a diagnosis at our first encounter and started treatment. She finally knows what is going on and I am very optimistic that she will soon feel a lot better! And she may even be able to stop her antidepressants!

Sjogren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system attacking its own tissues—in this case moisture-producing glands like tear ducts and salivary glands. It is typically diagnosed based on physical symptoms like dry eyes and mouth, aching joints and muscles, as well as fatigue. It can also be helpful to use lab tests that measure levels of autoantibodies linked with Sjogren’s syndrome (i.e., antinuclear antibodies ANA or SSA and SSB among others). Treatment for this condition often involves medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antimalarials, immunosuppressants or biologics such as rituximab (Rituxan) to reduce inflammation or suppress the immune system from attacking itself further. Other treatments may involve lifestyle changes such as exercise regimens to improve overall health and managing stress levels throughout the day.

While Sjogren is often limited to dry eyes and dry mouth, it can also be complicated by much more severe issues, such as neurologic, lung or liver involvement and even cancer, Working closely with a rheumatologist that knows how to manage Sjogren is of utmost importance. Surprisingly there is not as much interest in Sjogren than in Rheumatoid Arthritis. It may be because pharmaceutical companies haven't found treatments as efficient with Sjogren than, for example, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Research is ongoing and there is hope!

This story serves as an example of how gaslighting patients about their illness leads nowhere but further suffering for those living with chronic illnesses; don't let yourself become another statistic! Reach out to us today if you're experiencing any symptoms related to Sjogren's Syndrome; we'd love to help you take control over your life again!

At UnabridgedMD, we believe that everyone deserves access to accurate diagnoses and proper management, so they can live the lives they were meant to live. UnabridgedMD is the first direct care practice in Colorado specializing in rheumatology. Working directly with our patients allows for better care and we look forward seeing you!

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