The sports world got a jolt today with the announcement that tennis star Venus Williams has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that comes with many painful and irritating symptoms – inflammation of the salivary glands and tear ducts, joint pain, fatigue, and dry mouth, dry eyes and myalgia (muscle pain).
Many people have not heard of Sjögren’s syndrome. I hadn’t until a family member was diagnosed with it last fall.
It’s not an uncommon disease, but it’s often difficult to diagnose as it masks as other diseases such as lupus. Sjögren’s syndrome can often go on to become lupus, and there’s no known way to prevent that from happening.
Also, there’s no known cause for Sjögren’s syndrome – there’s thought to be genetic and environment factors that trigger the disease, but no real connection has been found. It’s most prevalent in women, and a study by the Mayo clinic reports that about 1% of the nation may be affected.
I’ve seen the effects of this disease first-hand, and it can be both physically and mentally debilitating. It took many months for my relative to be diagnosed, and during that time she experienced terrible mouth ulcers, joint pain that made it difficult to walk or even get out of bed, dry and red eyes, and extreme fatigue.
The symptoms came on very fast – her life changed drastically within a few days time and hasn’t been the same since. Some days she couldn’t raise her arms to get dressed, the pain was so bad. Upon starting treatment, the symptoms have fluctuated and become less severe, but have yet to go away completely.
Upon diagnosis, she moved here to St. Louis so that she could be closer to family, and as it happens, one of the leading Sjögren’s syndrome physicians in the country, Dr. Richard Brasington, is here at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. A Washington University rheumatologist and an expert on Sjögren’s syndrome, Dr. Brasington has helped treat many patients diagnosed with this disease.
It’s difficult to watch someone you love live with a disease like Sjögren’s syndrome. My hope is that Ms. Williams’ disease is treatable and that she can continue on with a normal, active life.