On August 31, tennis great, Venus Williams, pulled out of the US Open to face her biggest battle yet. She will be seeking treatment for a, rare, but serious autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome. While disappointed in not being able to continue in this year’s US Open, Williams is happy to finally have a diagnosis.
What is Sjögren’s syndrome? It is a debilitating systemic autoimmune disease characterized by immune cells that destroy the exocrine glands that produce tears and saliva. People with Sjögren’s often suffer from dry eyes and dry mouth. They may experience joint swelling and stiffness due to inflammation. They may also develop enlarged parotid glands due to lymphocytic infiltrate and inflammation.
To confirm a diagnosis of Sjögren’s physicians may do a specific antinuclear antibody test, which will determine if the patient’s antibodies bind to two specific antigens, associated with Sjögren’s, SS-A and SS-B. They may also detect any anti-nuclear antibodies, specific for this disease, by using immunofluorescence.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a serious condition that places the affected individual at an increased risk for developing other autoimmune disorders and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Sjögren’s can be caused by a number of factors, including environmental and genetic. This disease usually affects women between the ages of 40 and 60.
There is no known cure for the disorder and there is no specific treatment. Patients are often given supportive therapy, including anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive and/or disease modifying antirheumatic drugs. Efforts are also made to restore the production of tears and saliva.
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