American Venus Williams is out of the US Open after withdrawing from her match against Sabine Lisicki due to illness. Specifically, Sjogren's Syndrome (pronounced SHOW-grins): the autoimmune disease once thought rare, but now considered one of the most common autoimmune diseases to date. Unfortunately, most people (including doctors) consider the disease to be nothing more than dry eyes and mouth. While these are common complaints of the disease, it's effects are much worse. And though I wouldn't wish this disease on anyone, I'm honored to have Venus Williams as my spokesperson. If this disease can stop a powerhouse like her, it's obviously no joke.
Sjogren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects the moisture producing membranes of the body. That's why dry mouth and eyes are common complaints. But it also affects the digestive track, the lungs, the sinuses, and all of your skin just for starters. Sjogren's patients generally don't sweat much, and that makes them highly susceptible to heat stroke. Additionally, it attacks the moisture production in muscles, tendons, and joints which can cause severe pain and MS-like nerve symptoms (tingling, burning, numbness, etc.). The New York times featured the story of a woman with Sjogren's in The Doctor of Last Resort, whose symptoms had made it impossible for her to walk up the steps in her house of over a year. It's one hell of a disease, and it is estimated to affect up to 4% or 270 million people world-wide. By comparison, that's the entire US population, minus California.
Autoimmune diseases are when the body's immune system mistakenly identifies some normal aspect of our body as an "enemy combatant." It starts producing antibodies (i.e., against the body) and attacking healthy cells. Illness results, and depending on which type of autoimmune disease you have, it can kill you. Usually preceded by steady decline that slowly robs the patient of the ability to thrive.
I salute you, Venus Williams. You make this look awesome...