This is a stunning example of how an arthritis-related, autoimmune disease can force you out of the game -- literally and figuratively. Women's tennis professional, Venus Williams, withdrew today from the 2011 U.S. Open, minutes before she was due to appear on the court for her second round match. Though she has struggled this year with illness and injury, the announcement came as a surprise, especially since she had won her first round match Monday and practiced today. With the announcement of her withdrawal came news that Venus has been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome.
Venus, 31 years old, is the older of the Williams sisters (younger sister is Serena) who dominated women's tennis for years. Venus has had a 17-year career in professional tennis and has won 7 major championships and 2 Open titles. But this season, Venus has played 11 matches on the women's tour, missing time because of a hip injury, viral infection, and now Sjogren's syndrome. In interviews, there is reference to the extreme fatigue that she has been experiencing. Probably the most well-known symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome are dry eyes and dry mouth -- but there is much more.
It is estimated that one to 4 million Americans have been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome. Symptoms usually develop between 45 and 55 years of age. Ten times more women than men have Sjogren's syndrome. Some Sjogren's syndrome patients also have rheumatoid arthritis or a connective tissue disease, such as lupus (referred to as secondary Sjogren's syndrome). People with no other condition are said to have primary Sjogren's syndrome. There are some rare complications that have been associated with Sjogren's syndrome as well -- but overall, the condition is considered treatable and manageable. Enough so that we can expect Venus to play professional tennis again at some point? Let's hope!
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