Sjögren's syndrome is a common rheumatoid autoimmune disease - about 1% of the population suffers from it at any given time. It is caused when antibodies attack the cells responsible for the production of saliva and tears. Many times, the symptoms — dry mouth and dry eyes — are the only effect of the disease and are often very mild. However, in severe cases, secondary complications can set in such as opportunistic infections and ulcerations caused by the lack of lubrication of the eye. These can often be life threatening. The autoimmune disorder can also spread to other organs, such as the lungs.
Although it can affect persons of any age and either sex, it tends to be much more common in women, and it usually is diagnosed in persons over 40.
Sjögren's is difficult to treat. Steroids can lessen the symptoms but often the best treatment is to ensure that the mouth and eyes are kept artificially moist. The condition is not curable, but often spontaneously resolves itself with time.
One high profile individual who has been diagnosed with the disease is tennis star Venus Williams.