Tennis superstar Venus Williams pulled out of the US Open yesterday, siting that her inner circle was concerned for her health after she was diagnosed with Sjögren’s (show-grens) syndrome, a little-known autoimmune disorder.
So what is Sjögren’s syndrome? A quick look on the internet for answers, one can find out that this disease is scary but treatable. TIME Healthland asked Dr. Victoria Shanmugam, an assistant professor of rheumatology at Georgetown University, to explain the condition.
Here is a small excerpt from the TIME article:
What is Sjögren’s syndrome?
It’s an autoimmune disease that is typically characterized by inflammation in the tear ducts and salivary glands. We’re not sure why it focuses on these tissues. Many people will have a very mild form, and experience dryness of the eyes and mouth, fatigue, joint pain and myalgias [or muscle pain]. Many people will have that and nothing else. But a small proportion of people will go on to have multi-organ system disease that behaves a little more like lupus [another autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune cells start to attack healthy tissues, particularly in the joints].
What causes Sjögren’s?
That’s the million-dollar question in rheumatology. We think people probably have some kind of genetic predisposition — but we don’t know for sure — and some environmental factor sets off the immune system to trigger the disease. It’s not well understood why this particular person [will get diagnosed] and why now at this point in their life. But we do know that stress makes immune diseases worse.
Do you think Williams will be able to return to playing professional tennis?
Her decision to take a little time off and recover and get her health under control is a reasonable decision. There is no reason to think that having this diagnosis shouldn’t allow her to continue to be active in the future. Many many people with Sjögren’s lead very full and active lives. And in most cases it doesn’t affect their ability to hold down a full-time job and maintain all their usual activities.
Let’s hope Venus feels better and her health improves, so she can live the life she envisions. And selfishly, we hope she finds her way back to the tennis court.