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Women’s Tennis Legend Battles Sjogren’s Syndrome

Venus Williams has long battled Sjögren's Syndrome, a systemic auto-immune disease that affects the entire body

It’s almost the end of August in New York, which means the US Open is right around the corner. For those who don’t know, the US Open is one of four major tennis events (or Grand Slams), and the only one that takes place on US soil. Action begins on August 29th and runs through September 11th. Novak Djokovic is the smart money on the men’s side, while Serena Williams has a chance to make history on the women’s.

Speaking of Serena, as of right now, she’s tied for the most career US Open titles (6). If she takes the prize this year, she’ll own the record outright. If that’s not enough, she’ll also pass Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era (23). That said, if you’ve never been a fan of tennis, now would be a great time to start paying attention.

Serena’s sister is no slouch on the court either. Venus Williams owns two US Open titles (2000, 2001), even though she seems to like London better than New York (five Wimbledon championships). And let’s not forget doubles play where the sister’s are basically unstoppable (14 Grand Slam titles).

In recent years, Serena’s stolen more of the spotlight, while Venus has taken a backseat. Now, I can’t say I’m one-hundred percent sure, but it may have something to do with a particular disease contracted by Venus. After several years of health problems, Venus was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome in 2011.

Sjogren’s Syndrome:

According to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, Sjogren’s is “a systemic auto-immune disease that affects the entire body… In the United States alone, more than 4 million people are affected. And 9 out of 10 sufferers are women.”

Symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome include:

  • Dry eye
  • Dry mouth
  • Chronic Joint Pain
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis & Treatment:

Sjogren’s Syndrome can be a very difficult condition to diagnose. When it’s suspected, patients are evaluated by several specialists. These examinations include a summation of symptoms, blood work, and sometimes a biopsy.

When the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can effectively begin. From an eye standpoint, I encourage patients to protect the ocular surface from long-term dry eye damage. This requires an aggressive approach, which can include over the counter tears, but usually requires prescription strength eye drops such as Restasis.

Keep in mind, an auto-immune disease is one in which the body attacks itself. That said, it’s best to attempt a calming of the immune system. Restasis is typically able to get the job done (hopefully Xiidra will be too). Progress is made when inflammation is reduced. Further treatments are implemented to protect from more severe dry eye symptoms down the road.

Live in Your OcularPrime:

When Venus Williams burst onto the scene in the late 1990’s, she was a complete game changer. Many people (including myself) thought she’d take the game to new heights. It seemed very possible early in her career as she dominated several Grand Slams and sat atop the world rankings. Even though she’s battled several health issues, she’s still standing and taking part in her 18th US Open next month.

Simply put, the fact that she’s still out there says everything about her drive as an athlete. Tennis is a young woman’s sport, but Venus (and Serena) are going strong in their mid-to-late 30’s. As the story unfolds, Serena may indeed break all the records. But if health complications didn’t get in the way, Venus might have been the one.