Patients with Sjogren’s syndrome, a systemic immune disease which affects the production of tears and saliva, report worse mental well-being and more difficulty in identifying feelings than healthy individuals, according to results presented today at the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) 2011 Annual Congress.

The results of a Dutch study of 300 Sjogren’s patients showed that 22% of patients with Sjögren’s syndrome were classified as clinically ‘alexithymic’ (experiencing difficulty identifying and describing emotions), compared to 12% of the healthy control group.

Subsequent results of the study showed that higher levels of alexithymia were moderately correlated with worse mental well-being in both groups, showing that there is a proven link between the two. interestingly, in patients with Sjögren’s syndrome, levels of emotion suppression also correlated with worse mental well-being, an effect that was seen less in the control group.

Said Ms. Ninke Van Leeuwen from Utrecht University:

“Patients with Sjögren’s syndrome experience chronic dryness of the eyes and mouth as well as other parts of the body, and thus have a hampered ability to cry. This may affect their ability to express their emotions and they often have to rely on words and facial expressions instead of tears as a result.

We hope that the results of our study will drive further research to examine different psychological interventions that can benefit patients with Sjögren’s syndrome who have emotional processing problems.“

In the study, validated questionnaires were used to assess the emotional processing, regulation and mental well-being of 300 patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome in the Netherlands area and 100 demographically matched healthy controls, with a mean age of 56.8 years, 93% of whom were female.

The questionnaires evaluated responses on the emotional processing styles including affect intensity (the strength of the emotions with which individuals respond to certain stimulus), alexithymia, cognitive reappraisal (the use of coping strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings), expression and suppression of emotions and mental well-being.

Published studies on the survival of Sjögren’s syndrome patients are limited in varied respects, perhaps owing to the relatively small sample sizes, and secondary Sjogren’s syndrome associated to other autoimmune diseases. However, results from a number of studies indicated, compared to other autoimmune diseases, Sjögren’s syndrome is associated with a notably high incidence of malignant non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Among famous people who have been diagnosed with this Sjögren’s are world champion tennis player Venus Williams, who has said she struggled with fatigue for years, as well as U.S. Olympic soccer player Shannon Boxx, who suffers from both Sjögren’s syndrome and lupus.

For future updates, subscribe via Newsletter here or Twitter