For a year, Terri Cobb was plagued by inexplicable health problems.
Cobb’s mouth hurt. It was perpetually dry and sometimes it burned. Her joints ached and her eyes lost moisture. Some days, she was just so tired she could hardly get off the couch.
Even after a series of visits to different doctors across a range of specialties, no one could give her a definitive diagnosis. “It can be a little scary when you go to the doctor and he doesn’t know what’s wrong with you,” said Cobb, who is executive pastor at the Western Oaks Church of the Nazarene. “I have high pain tolerance, but I got to the point where I was really suffering.”
The dentist, the chiropractor, the primary care physician—no one knew what was wrong with her. Then, finally, one doctor suggested running some blood tests for autoimmune diseases and her numbers were higher than normal.
“That’s when my daughter-in-law suggested I might have Sjögren’s syndrome, and she told me about OMRF’s clinical study,” Cobb said.
Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands. The hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but Sjögren’s may also cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and the central nervous system. Patients may also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain and have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.
At OMRF, Cobb was diagnosed with Sjögren’s. That diagnosis has not only given her the knowledge and tools to help manage her illness, but it has relieved her of the stress of not understanding what was happening to her.
“It may sound exotic, but Sjögren’s is a very common autoimmune disease. Terri is one of 4 million Americans affected by the disease, but it’s often unrecognized, which makes diagnosis more difficult,” said OMRF’s Kathy Moser, Ph.D, who is creating a database of Sjögren’s patients to use in large-scale DNA screenings. She hopes the research will isolate and identify the genes responsible for the disease.
“Volunteers who qualify for our study donate a small blood sample and visit with an ophthalmologist, a rheumatologist and an oral medicine expert for specialized tests.” In addition to identifying the disease and teaching volunteers how to deal with symptoms, Moser’s group uses the clinical data to learn more about the causes of Sjögren’s.
“Our volunteers are a critical resource for research,” said Moser, who is an associate member of OMRF’s Arthritis and Immunology Research Program. “Through our Sjögren’s Research Clinic, we are able to do many different types of research projects led by OMRF investigators as well as numerous U.S. and international collaborators.”
If you are interested in participating or would like more information about the study, please call (405) 271-2574.
“After taking part in the OMRF study, I really learned how to take care of myself better,” Cobb said. “There’s no cure for Sjögren’s, but if you know what you’re doing, you can ease the symptoms and live a normal life. I just had to become more proactive in taking care of my health.”