Who doesn’t get a dry mouth on occasion? You’re working hard or exercising, it’s a hot day and you need to hydrate. It happens all the time, right? All you have to do is take a drink of water and everything will be ok, correct?

Not so fast. While feeling like you need to refresh yourself and get rid of that dry, harsh feeling in your mouth is common, sometimes it can indicate something much more serious may be wrong with you. And, if you think frequent dry mouth episodes aren't serious enough to mention to your doctor, think again.

Dry mouth may be common, but sometimes you feel like you are very careful about keeping yourself hydrated and your mouth is still dry. If that sounds like something that happens to you it can be an indication of a more serious medical condition, like Sjogren's syndrome, which affects as many as 4 million Americans and many more millions around the world.

Venus Williams Has Sjogren’s

You’ve probably never heard of Sjogren’s syndrome – and like most people you don’t even have a clue how to pronounce it (it’s pronounced SHOW-grun), until – perhaps – news broke of tennis star Venus Williams’ diagnosis of Sjogren’s. Sjogren's is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which a person's immune system attacks and destroys the moisture-producing glands in the body. Often, the condition leaves patients with chronic dry mouth as they experience a decrease in saliva. Many patients also frequently experience a dry or a gritty, sandy feeling in their eyes. Both dry mouth and dry eyes are the hallmark symptoms of Sjogren's. Other symptoms may also include joint pain, fatigue, a change in taste or smell, or tooth decay.

Dry mouth and Sjogren'sCredit: Sjogren’s Syndrome FoundationOne of the major issues relative to Sjogren is that it is not often apparent to a sufferer. It may take years before it is evident and diagnosable. The average time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis of Sjogren's is almost seven years. One reason for the delay may be that patients wait months (and even years) before discussing their symptoms with their doctors. Additionally, patients may not connect their symptoms, like cavities or cracked lips, with dry mouth and many of them may not describe their dry-mouth symptoms thoroughly when they finally do speak to their physicians.

No Cure

Sadly, there is currently no known cure for Sjogren’s. But researchers suggest that some of the factors that may prompt Sjogren are genetic and environmental. The disease particularly affects middle-aged women (some estimates put it at 90 percent affecting women) but can also affect children, men, and elderly people. The syndrome could also be associated with other autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or scleroderma. Because the symptoms of Sjogren are so common, the actually disease is often misdiagnosed by practitioners.

So, if there is no known cure what can be done if you are diagnosed with Sjogren? Typically treatment involves some type of moisture replacement therapy (such as artificial tears or artificial saliva) to at least ease some of the dryness. Sometimes anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed. If the syndrome is severe heavier doses of drugs may be recommended.

Because the disease is relatively rare, science has only recently found a common basis for classifying the syndrome. In fact, it was only in April 2012 that an international team of researchers released new classification criteria for Sjogren’s syndrome. Classification criteria are the consensus opinion of a group of experts that researchers use in clinical studies to confirm a previous diagnosis and/or sub-classify patients who have the same type of a given condition. The new criteria come from the Sjogren's International Collaborative Clinical Alliance and will hopefully lead to agreement on a single international standard for diagnosing, testing and treating Sjogren’s.

There are a number of organizations, such as the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation that are working on increasing research for, providing education about and increasing awareness of Sjogren’s. The foundation also sponsors an annual Sjogren's Awareness Month every April and hosts an information website at DefytheDry.com.