Sjogren's Syndrome Affects Venus Williams, 4 Million Americans
A diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome has led Venus Williams to withdraw from the US Open after she finished her first match. She, along with about 4 million other Americans, live with this chronic autoimmune connective tissue disorder that is characterized by fatigue, dry eyes, and joint pain.
Sjogren’s syndrome affects women more than men
In people with Sjogren’s syndrome, their immune system destroys the glands that produce moisture, including tear and salivary glands, although the lungs, stomach, and other organs may be affected as well. Ninety percent of people who have the syndrome are women.
The result can be a variety of symptoms, ranging from dry, burning eyes to dry mouth, cracked tongue, dry throat, peeling lips, joint pain, vaginal and skin dryness, digestive problems, trouble talking and/or swallowing, gum and tooth problems, and fatigue. If it affects the lungs, individuals may experience recurrent bronchitis or pneumonia, while Sjogren’s that affects the brain may cause concentration and memory difficulties, according to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation.
About half the people with Sjogren’s also have another autoimmune connective tissue disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or lupus. When Sjogren’s occurs with another disease, it is called “secondary Sjogren’s.” The term “primary Sjogren’s” is used for people who have Sjogren’s alone.
The course of Sjogren’s syndrome varies for every person; symptoms may remain the same, get worse, or occasionally go into remission. Although there is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, an early diagnosis and prompt treatment can help prevent serious complications and improve a person’s quality of life.
According to Dr. Stuart Green, a rheumatologist at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, while Sjogren’s can’t be cured, “it usually can be managed. Everybody’s a little different; there could be some fatigue with it, but most patients handle it pretty well,” he said in a New York Post article.
Treatment of Sjogren’s syndrome often includes over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications for dry eyes (e.g., cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion [Restasis®], hydroxypropyl cellulose ophthalmic insert [Lacrisert®]) and dry mouth (cevimeline [Evoxac®], pilocarpine hydrochloride [Salagen®]). If the internal organs are affected, immunosuppressive medications may be prescribed.
Most people with Sjogren’s syndrome have no major organ involvement and do well with treatment. Venus Williams has taken steps to manage the disease and will hopefully be back on the courts in the near future.