Earlier this year, we brought you news of Serena William’s health scare after she was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. Serena has since made a successful comeback to pro tennis, winning 18 straight matches between July and September, including titles at Stanford and Toronto, and becoming a finalist in the US Open. However, by some strange, sad twist of fate, her sister, Venus Williams, was forced to withdraw from the same tournament after being diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s – a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. It primarily affects glandular tissues – most notably the tear and saliva glands. It can result in dry eyes and a dry mouth. In addition, patients can experience muscle and joint aches and pains, as well as debilitating fatigue.
While a combination of genetic and environmental factors can lead to Sjögren’s, as with many autoimmune diseases, the onset of the condition is often preceded by an infection. It’s understandable how these symptoms might make it difficult, if not impossible, to play tennis at a high level.
“I think I’ve had issues with Sjögren’s for a while. It just wasn’t diagnosed,” Williams told ABC News. “The good news for me is now I know what’s happening.”
While Sjogren’s has no cure, there are treatments that make symptoms more manageable. In addition to over the counter (OTC) eye drops and mouth preparations, prescription products are available. They include Evoxac® (cevimeline), Salagen® (pilocarpine hydrochloride) and Numoisyn™ for dry mouth and Restasis® (cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion) and Lacrisert® (hydroxypropyl cellulose ophthalmic insert) for dry eye. Additionally, anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce joint and muscle inflammation; and certain drugs can help to either suppress or modulate the overactive immune response.
Let’s hope Venus can recover as fast as her sister and that we can look forward to a 9th grand slam finals between the pair.