Sjogren’s syndrome is a systemic autoimmune condition that affects the lacrimal and salivary glands, which results in any moist body membrane or tissue to become overly dry. This disease can be a primary illness, or secondary to another illness or rheumatic disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and other connective tissue diseases. There are other conditions associated with Sjogren’s Syndrome and those are: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, bilary cirrhosis, pancreatitis, interstitial nephritis, and vasculitis.
Sjogren’s Syndrome can also be triggered in high-stress situations and when the body has become stressed and overloaded with heavy medications, such as chemotherapy. The dryness is caused by the progressive discussion of exocrine glands which help to keep membranes and internal organ linings moist and functional. Without protective wetness, there can be serious complications.
Many people who suffer from Sjogren’s Syndrome have disabling symptoms like severe dryness, pain and fatigue. In twenty to forty percent of those patients, the inflammation caused spreads to other organs internally causing much worse manifestations like joint pain and inflammation, serious vaginal issues, lymph node enlargement, along with kidney, liver, nerve and muscle damage. Raynaud’s phenomenon and lung inflammation are also linked to Sjogren’s Syndrome. More serious and rare complications from this disease include non-Hodgkin’s b-cell lymphoma.
In most all cases about Sjogren’s syndrome, dry eyes and dry mouth are treated and discussed easily. There are numerous types of artificial tears, special gels, mouth rinses and medications made to help wake up your salivary glands. There are special surgeries that can ease symptoms and make dealing with eye dryness and pain manageable, and up and coming androgen treatments proving to nullify the condition. The top side effect from this disease, however, is considered taboo because it has to do directly with the female vagina. There is much to learn and share about vaginal dryness and how Sjogren’s syndrome seriously affects a woman’s genital health.
One of the more irritating side effects of Sjogren’s Syndrome is vaginal dryness. Most women who experience this disease are also dealing with severe vaginal dryness that can lead to worse cases of vaginal atrophy. The symptoms of this are thinning pubic hair, loss of vaginal elasticity, decreased natural vaginal moisture, and narrowing of the vaginal opening. Alongside these symptoms, women may experience burning, itching, pain with sexual intercourse, or vaginal spotting or discharge. While these symptoms can be caused by other conditions and illnesses, if they are paired with severe dry eye and dry mouth, it is most likely the culprit. If you have these symptoms, plus abnormal vaginal bleeding, please make an appointment to be evaluated by your gynecologist as soon as you can.
*Note: An easy way to check and verify if certain allergens are causing your vaginal discomfort would be to check your soaps, lubricants, detergents and feminine hygiene products to ensure you are not having an adverse reaction to their ingredients.
As if vaginal dryness were not enough, things like bladder infections and yeast infections are more prevalent in women with severely dry tissue.
What can I do to help with my vaginal dryness?
There are a few treatments, both medical and holistic, that can be tried to ease the dryness associated with Sjogren’s syndrome. Here are some of your options:
- Vaginal moisturizers are products made to be applied daily to the outside flesh and tissue of the vagina and labia. These are made to help rejuvenate the skin and replenish lost moisture while helping the body rebuild cells to provide their own moisture in the future. In other words, repeated use helps bring moisture back to the area. This can be especially helpful for those experiencing dry chafing and irritated skin from the friction of underwear or pads in the area.
*Note: Hand and body lotions and any other face, hand cream or otherwise listed are NOT vaginal moisturizers and should not be used as such. Always check the label of the product you are applying to your vagina and make sure it is made and safe for the area.
- Water-soluble lubricants are lubricants that are made from a water-based and easily handled by the skin. Water-soluble lubricants do dissipate in water and become less effective. This lube makes a great barrier between your skin and another object or thing like underwear, foreplay, or intercourse. Many women use a water-based lubricant to help keep their vaginal tissues moist and moving through the day to help ease the discomfort and pain.
When shopping for water-soluble lubricants with sensitive skin issues and illness, be sure to avoid added extras, scents, sugars, special features like tingling or warming- at least until you have established what your skin can handle. Stick with the original, medical grade organic and natural brands.
- –Silicone-based lubricants are similar to water-based lubrication in that they provide a barrier to ease friction for many things, except that silicone lubes are thicker and made to last through tougher times. Silicone lubricants are made with a medical grade and the highest quality of ingredients. This ensures no skin reactions and the proper protection for severely sore and sensitive skin. Silicone provides a lasting layer of body-temperature moisture that can ward off all friction from uncomfortable clothing or friction from your thighs rubbing the area.
When searching for a silicone lubrication that you can utilize, avoid the unnecessary scents, colors, features, and extras. Sore and sensitive skin should not be the tester for new products or anything that will worsen the skin condition.
Vaginal estrogen creams and supplements can be prescribed by your doctor if all of the over-the-counter methods fail for you. These creams, pills, supplements and insertable rings can deliver a slow-release does of estrogen which can help to awaken the body to re-moisturize itself. These creams and supplements come with their own risk factors, so be sure to read about all of the side effects and warnings if choosing this route. Here are some details about the varieties of estrogen treatments available:
- The cream form of estrogen therapy is measured with an applicator style package and inserted into the vagina. In most cases, the cream is inserted every day for two weeks, and then once or twice weekly thereafter.
- Tablets or pill forms of estrogen therapy is put into the vagina via disposable applicator. Some women find insertion uncomfortable when vaginal dryness is flaring and require lubrication to help ease it into place.
- The estrogen ring is a flexible plastic ring that you wear inside of the vagina at all times. You replace it with a new ring every three months, and it does not need to be removed for intercourse, swimming, or bathing. Most women report that it cannot be felt, although, in some women who have had a hysterectomy, the ring falls out occasionally. Talk to your doctor if you think this form of estrogen therapy would be beneficial to your symptoms and experiences with Sjogren’s syndrome.
The use of vaginal estrogens is still being debated for those who have had cancer or a history of cancer in their immediate family. A certain amount of estrogen is absorbed from the vagina and into the bloodstream, which could be dangerous to hormone-sensitive cancers. Short term use of these hormone creams are associated with only a few side effects, and long term use is still being studied.
Are there any holistic ways to help ease the symptoms of my vaginal dryness?
This is a controversial topic in the world of vaginas and dryness. Some people swear by coconut oil, wild yam creams, and black cohosh (although none of these have been proven to really take care of anything). Many doctors advise avoiding taking chances when dealing with the fragile, thin skin of the genitals, and advise to stick with products made solely for the correct use.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness that is affecting parts of your everyday life, causing you pain, or becoming an annoyance, please consult with your gynecologist or medical care team to discuss and plan the best course of action for your treatment. Before adding any new product to your skin, check in with your doctor to ensure your chances are low to suffer from side effects or worsening skin conditions.