Sjögren's Syndrome: A Mysterious Illness that Kept Venus Williams from the U.S. Open
Tennis fans around the world were surprised and dismayed when the two-time U.S. Open champion and seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open tournament. Recent reports of a virus and stomach complaints had recently surfaced, but her reason for pulling out was due to a more mysterious condition.
It's called Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune condition
where the body attacks its own healthy tissues. As many as 4 million Americans are living with this illness.The causes and symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome.
The exact cause of the syndrome is unknown, but there is growing evidence that genetic factors may play a role. The illness often exists within family members and it's also found in families whose members have other autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
, type-1 diabetes, and thyroid disease
. An overwhelming 90% of patients with Sjögren's syndrome are female.
With an autoimmune disease such as this, the body produces an abnormal amount of surplus antibodies in the blood that target various body tissues. Sjogren's syndrome in particular is characterized by dry eyes and mouth because it causes inflammation in the glands responsible for producing tears and saliva. There can also be dysfunction of the kidneys, blood vessels, gastrointestinal system, liver, lungs, pancreas and the central nervous system. As in the case of Venus Williams, joint pain and muscles fatigue can occur as well.
Williams told Good Morning America's Elizabeth Vargas the disease forced her out of the U.S. Open because of joint pain, numbness, swelling and fatigue. She said she has had to deal with the symptoms for years and she now knows they are linked to the syndrome. "I think I've had issues with Sjogren's for a while. It just wasn't diagnosed," she said. "The good news for me is now I know what's happening.
There is no cure for Sjogren's but the symptoms are treatable. Anti-inflammatory treatments can alleviate muscle and joint inflammation, and saliva stimulants and artificial tears can help with the dryness. There are also treatment options available that can tame the hyperactive immune response.