Tennis champion Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open Wednesday, leaving fans stunned and confused as she announced that she would be taking time off to address a health concern. Williams says she has Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain, making it difficult for her to compete.
Here are some quick facts about the disease that has put Williams on the bench.
Question: What is Sjögren's (SHOW-grins) Syndrome?
Answer: Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the glands that produce tears and saliva. Autoimmune diseases are disorders of the body’s immune system and occur when antibodies — usually produced by the body to fight infection — begin to attack the body’s own systems and tissues.
How do you know if you have Sjögren's?
Only a physician can diagnose Sjögren’s Syndrome but the primary symptoms of the disease are dry eyes and mouth. As the disease progresses, some people may develop fatigue, joint pain and stiffness and may even develop other immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Sjögren’s occurs most often in women over 40, but the disease can develop in anyone at any age.
Is Sjögren’s Syndrome fatal?
Sjögren’s Syndrome is serious but generally not fatal if complications are diagnosed and treated early. Patients must be monitored carefully for development of internal organ involvement, related autoimmune diseases and other serious complications. Cancer of the lymph nodes is significantly higher in people with Sjögren’s compared to the general population.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome but the disease is usually not life threatening and patients are treated by assistance in managing the symptoms of the disease. Over the counter medications are given for the surface symptoms of dry eyes and mouth and prescription medication can also be taken to treat more serious versions of the disease that affect other organs.
Will Williams ever be able to play again?
Doctors not personally associated with her treatment say it is likely that Williams will return to the court. Although there is a chance that the disease could progress and not allow Williams to return to professional tennis, one doctor predicted that if Williams’ case is mild, she may be ready to compete in the Australian Open this January.
For more information on Sjögren’s Syndrome, visit Mayo Clinic and Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation
(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)