Wimbledon is under way, but four-time winner Venus Williams went out in the first round. Last year, the tennis player was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome.
What is it?
Pronounced showgrens, Sjögren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system starts attacking the body, rather than fighting off infection. In the case of this condition, the secretary glands, for example those that produce saliva and tears, develop a kind of inflammation.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include dryness of the eyes, mouth, skin and even the gastrointestinal tract. Other common symptoms are muscle and joint pain, and general fatigue. This can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, often causing sufferers difficulty swallowing. Without treatment, complications can occur, such as lymphoma, neuropathies (damage to the nerves of the peripheral nervous system), loss of teeth, ulceration of the eye and loss of sight.
Venus Williams has spoken out of her own symptoms, and how they have affected her career.
“I couldn't raise my arm over my head, the racket felt like concrete. I had no feelings in my hands. They were swollen and itchy.”
It is important that the disease is spotted quickly, however diagnosis can be difficult. It affects three to four percent of adults in the UK, with 90 percent of these being women. It is thought however that there are more people suffering from the condition without diagnosis.
Venus’ diagnosis has brought the disease to the public’s attention, and the hope is that they increased awareness of the condition will increase the number of correct diagnoses.
Treatment mainly involves alleviating the symptoms of the syndrome. For example, artificial tears or tear substitutes can be used to manage dry eye and keep eyes healthy. For dry-mouth, saliva replacement gels and mouth sprays are available if there is no functional salivary tissue. If glandular activity is still present, chewing gum and sucking sweets can prove helpful.
Changing your diet can also be a simple way to relieve symptoms, for example avoiding spicy foods. It may also be helpful to make use of alternative therapies, such as massage and yoga, as Venus Williams does.
July 23rd is World Sjögren's Day, attempting to raise awareness of the condition. Visit the website for details of events happening in your area: http://www.sjogrens.org/home/about-the-foundation/history
The BSSA is a registered UK charity, which aims to help those with Sjögren's syndrome. They raise awareness and are conducting further research into the disease, whilst also giving aid to sufferers through support groups. To find out more: http://www.bssa.uk.net/index.html
Written by Katy McIntosh