The use of oral pilocarpine in xerostomia and Sjögren's syndrome

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 1999 Jun;28(6):360-7. doi: 10.1016/s0049-0172(99)80002-x.


Objectives: To analyze the role of oral pilocarpine in the treatment of xerostomia of Sjogren's syndrome (SS).

Methods: The medical literature was reviewed for all studies using oral pilocarpine to treat xerostomia caused by SS or radiotherapy registered in the MedLine Silver Platter database from 1966 to 1998.

Results: All the studies identified excluded elderly individuals with cardiac or pulmonary disease. Patients with postradiation xerostomia and incomplete resection of the salivary glands were more likely to benefit from oral pilocarpine when there was sufficient residual glandular function than patients with radical surgery for head and neck cancer (HNC). However, patients with SS and other inflammatory disorders seemed to benefit from oral pilocarpine, when compared with patients with postradiation xerostomia. The optimal dose of oral pilocarpine, which was less likely to cause side effects, was 5 mg four times daily. A recent multi-center study in SS patients suggests that oral pilocarpine is effective and safe for long-term administration. Although some studies did not show evidence for increased salivary gland secretion rate as measured by sialometry, symptoms improved, perhaps because of increased secretion from the minor salivary glands or better conditioning of the oral mucosa.

Conclusions: Oral pilocarpine is likely to benefit patients with SS by reducing the symptoms of xerostomia, even if the salivary gland secretion rate does not increase. Further controlled studies are needed in patients with SS and should include elderly patients with cardiovascular disease treated with moderate doses of oral pilocarpine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Muscarinic Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Muscarinic Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Pilocarpine / administration & dosage
  • Pilocarpine / therapeutic use*
  • Radiation Injuries / drug therapy
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology
  • Radiation Injuries / physiopathology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Salivary Glands / physiopathology
  • Salivary Glands / radiation effects
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / complications
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Xerostomia / drug therapy
  • Xerostomia / etiology
  • Xerostomia / physiopathology


  • Muscarinic Agonists
  • Pilocarpine