Venus Williams Diagnosed With Sjögren's Syndrome

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The human body seems to be under almost constant attack from the outside world, whether it is from harsh climate, from the sun's ultraviolet rays, or the bacteria and viruses that surround us. So, it seems especially unfair when the body attacks itself to cause illness. This is precisely what occurs in a group of illnesses referred to as autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost anyone, and the latest patient in the spotlight is Venus Williams, who withdrew from the U.S. Tennis Open because of Sjögren's syndrome.

"I'm really disappointed to have to withdraw from this year's U.S. Open," Williams said in a statement. "I have recently been diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain...I enjoyed playing my first match here and wish I could continue, but right now I am unable to. I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon." – Venus Williams in USA Today.

Imagine what happens when lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, decide that organs in the body are alien and don't belong. They mount an attack and invade and infiltrate that organ, causing it to fail. That is autoimmune disease in a nutshell. In Sjögren's syndrome, the lymphocytes attack glands whose secretions pass through a duct directly to the outside of the body. The most common complaints are dry eyes and dry mouth, since the glands that make tears and saliva are affected. (It's important to remember that most people with dry eyes and dry mouth have it because of other, non-serious causes.) Sjögren's syndrome would less serous if those were the only issues, but the syndrome can also involve the lungs, kidney, liver, and skin. Moreover, it can rarely be associated with a form of cancer of the lymph glands called lymphoma.