Saturday, 23 February 2019

2018 Sjogren's Society of Canada National Conference

Opportunities For Empowerment

Last year's in-person National Conference took place  last April, and here's a retrospective look at it. This year the Conference is on April 27, 2019 in Mississauga, Ontario and you can register here.

We had a very full day with informative speakers in every time slot. The day started with an introduction from Dr Lisa Prokopich, the SJSC Vice-President.

Our first speaker, Dr Julian Ambrus is Professor of Medicine, SUNY at Buffalo School of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology. He gave us an overview of Sjogren's and information on "New Ideas"  He pointed out that Sjogren's is a systemic disease defined by dry eyes, dry mouth, decreased tear production and salivary flow, and it can also involve lungs, kidneys, neuropathy, vasculitis and that 5% of those affected may develop non-Hodgkin lymphomas. He told us that the submandibular gland was the first to be affected in Sjogren's, then the parotid gland, finally the sublingual gland which is under your tongue. 

Dr Julian Ambrus

After an overview of current treatments he said early diagnosis is critical, even though current therapies are inadequate. He suggests that patients with Sjogren's be followed carefully by doctors who know what they are doing. We need new therapies to restore function to tear and salivary glands, and to prevent complications and systemic problems.

Here's a partial list of treatments he gave us for the management of Sjogren's Syndrome

  • Artificial tears and saliva
  • Sugar free lozenges to stimulate salivary glands
  • Cholinergic agents that stimulate remaining salivary glands increase secretions such as Pilocarpine in Canada/US, Civemeline in US
  • Topical cyclosporine eye drops
  • sometimes topical steroids
  • Topical 5% lifitegrast opthalmic solution
  • Punctum plugs to retain tears in the eyes longer
  • Treatment of any infections
Dr Ambrus and colleagues are involved in research about IL-14, a B Cell growth factor which is increased in patients with Primary and Secondary Sjogren's. We hope this will yield good results in the future.

Our next speaker was Dr Richard Maharaj who is the Clinic Director at eyeLABS Centre for Ocular Surface Disease who told us that living with dry eye disease does not have to be a life sentence and that treatment options have exponentially increased, though there are challenges in diagnosing Sjogren's Syndrome. Eye care providers are critical in the process of diagnosis. He mentioned some in-office treatments such as LipiflowThermal pulsation for Meibomian Glands, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments for MGD, and eyelid and tear inflammation, Blephex, and amniotic membrane grafts.

One shocking fact is that 50% of adults with Sjogren's are undiagnosed. We know from past conferences that the time to diagnosis is too long - Dr Maharaj said that patients have symptoms for an average of 3.9 years before they are diagnosed.

He also gave us three rules for dry eyes. 
1. Avoid preservatives in eye drops and eye gels
2. Use a Hyaluronate eye drop eg HYLO, i-drop
3. Triglycerides - Omega 3's. We need this to be bioavailable.

We heard from Dr. Heather Palmer next. She devotes her time to applying what is being learned through science to help all people to maximize their cognitive capacity. Her topic was the much dreaded and often mentioned among patients "Brain Fog". She told us that the three main issues that affect your brain function are pain, fatigue and worry. 
Brain fog can affect your verbal skills, spatial skills and executive function, so it may affect your psychological well-being, functioning and even your relationships. Some important lessons from research that she highlighted are:

  • Good relationships keep us healthier and happier
  • Social connections and close proximity are good - loneliness kills
  • Quality of relationships is what matter, not the numbers
  • Good relationships protect the body AND the brain
We should assume we'll forget and put strategies in place to deal with that; we should schedule things to adapt to our strengths; and we should develop a toolbox of solutions to help us with issues. At the close she told us that we are empowered to change our brain functions, that we should make a conscious effort to use strategies to help us, gave us rules of thumb for 'present-mindedness'
  • Stop
  • Clarify
  • Simplify
  • Monitor
It was also reassuring to hear that brain fog exists, it is not in our minds, and that symptoms may vary from person to person.


This year for the first time ever we had a Patient Panel. The four members represented different aspects of the involved patient experience.

Joyce Hambly, our support group leader in the Kitchener-Waterloo area spoke about the benefits of being able to talk person to person about issues and symptoms with other people who understand. One rule of support groups is "What is shared in the room stays in the room." For new problems the group brainstorms.

Sjogren's Board member Janet Gunderson gave us her insights about being engaged and involved as a patient advisor while living in a remote rural area. Hearing her advice and knowing that she lives in northern Saskatchewan and has a really positive impact through her volunteer work was very inspiring. Even though she is somewhat isolated, she makes a valuable contribution as an engaged patient.

Annette McKinnon talked about what she learned as a patient who has been involved with the Sjogren's Society of Canada from the beginning. She stressed the value of patient organizations, especially for  diseases that are not well known. Patient groups help with awareness and education, and help people realize they are not alone with their problems. 

Then Sharon Marafon talked about that vital issue for patient groups - funding and fundraising. It's a real struggle for a small grassroots patient organization to just exist, especially when Sjogren's takes such a toll on our members. She has been an amazingly effective fundraiser and event planner for many groups in the past, and she was one of the masterminds of Sjogren's 'Old Bags Fundraiser' a few years ago. 

We were also delighted that an anonymous attendee made a generous donation and volunteered to match donations that others made at the conference. We would like to thank our anonymous benefactor.

When Dr Arthur Bookman got up to speak he was welcomed as the Chairperson of the Sjogren's Society of Canada Medical Advisory Board. He is also a distinguished rheumatologist and the Coordinator of the Mutidisciplinary Sjogren's Clinic at the University Health Network in Toronto. His talk this year was titled "Sjogren's Disease: Redefining and Repositioning"

He  began by reviewing the classification criteria for Sjogren's and stressing that these criteria need to be sensitive and specific for an accurate diagnosis. It's interesting to see how the results he sees in the clinic compare to those found in literature.

He went on to review the benefits and shortfalls of Rituxumab, which is seen to benefit salivary flow, dry eyes and mouth, fatigue and extra-glandular manifestations. Unfortunately the research results are not a slam-dunk: Maybe the wrong patients are chosen, the wrong targets are selected, or the outcome measures are not appropriate.

Dr Leslie Laing, the new President of the Sjogren's Society of Canada, spoke to us about "Controversies in Sjogren's: From Implants to Fluoride" She began by reviewing the benefits of healthy saliva flow. I had not realized the part it plays in ensuring dentures are comfortable.
Another question she addressed was about the extent to which a history of Sjogrens Disease affects the failure of dental implants. Though there may be some drawbacks in most cases the implants survived and were an aesthetic and functional solution.

Some evidence based facts from Dr Laing:

  • a strong recommendation for the use of a topical fluoride
  • recommendation for stimulating salivary flow to reduce incidence of caries
  • moderate evidence for use of a remineralizing agent
The day closed with Dr Miriam Grushka, with a talk titled "Why is my tongue sore and why does it hurt and what happened to my taste?"

Looking at the dry mouth in Sjogren's the tissues look dry, red, irritated and may have ulcerations. This can lead to opportunistic infections, such as yeast infections which actually changes the architecture of the tongue and can lead to sore, burning tongue, loss of taste, burning mouth, and difficulty eating. 
In some cases the loss of taste is a sign of loss of tastebuds. 

For prevention Dr Grushka suggests products like Xylitol containing gums and candies or medication to increase saliva flow. Another idea was a night guard or invisalign-type tray with a remineralizing agent to be worn at night. (Note: I do this and it is helpful)

We'd like to thank our round table session hosts. You can learn a lot from experts while they are being peppered with questions from your peers. I learned that eyes are a significant frustration to most of us and that memory and cognition courses only benefit those who actively make changes. 

As usual we had a draw for donated prizes. Thanks especially to Wendy Shingler for her hand-crafted jewelry donation.

Of course this could not have been done without our sponsors  Allergan and lubricity, and our exhibitors, Allergan, BioXtra, Candorvision, Oral Science and The Dry Eye Store.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo for being on the panel Annette !!! I am shocked that over 50% of people with Sjogren's Syndrome do not know it. But I should not be surprised. I asked my Rheumatologist if he would test me (the dentist suggested it) and he said no. No explanation, no nothing, just no. I am determined to be tested. The quest continues.