By now you've undoubtedly heard about Venus Williams' decision to walk away from the U.S. Open because of Sjogren's syndrome. But a lot of people still don't really know what that means or why it can be so debilitating. I asked Steven E. Carsons, MD, internal medicine chief, Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at Winthrop University Hospital on Long Island to explain this condition.
What is Sjogren's?
Pronounced SHOW-grins, this chronic autoimmune disorder happens when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks the glands that produce moisture needed for the mouth, skin, eyes, vaginal area, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory tract. As the disease progresses, it can damage the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and the central nervous system.
Sjogren's is the second most common autoimmune disorder and affects about four million Americans, says Dr. Carsons. Nine out of 10 people with it are women, but the exact cause is unknown. Genetic factors and environmental ones (such as being exposed to certain viruses or bacteria) may play a role.
When and how is it diagnosed?
Most people are diagnosed in their late 40s, but initial symptoms tend to crop up an average seven years before that. One reason for the delay in diagnosis, says Dr. Carsons, is that patients wait too long to discuss their symptoms with doctors. Dry eye and dry mouth (it may feel like you have cotton in there) are two major signs to watch out for.
If you think you might have it, what should you do?
Definitely talk to your primary care doctor, but you'll probably also need to see a specialist (rheumatologist).
You can lean more about Sjogren's at