In 2011, tennis star Venus Williams was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, a long-term autoimmune disease in which the moisture-producing glands of the body are affected. This results primarily in the development of a dry mouth and dry eyes. Other symptoms can include dry skin, a chronic cough, vaginal dryness, numbness in the arms and legs, feeling tired, muscle and joint pains, and thyroid problems.
Thankfully, Venus’ career did not come to an end because of her illness but big changes had to be made.
“I could be a lot worse. I feel pretty fortunate,” says Venus, who has implemented a vegan/raw foods diet with success. “I could have kidney failure or feel like my eyes are on fire or my teeth could fall out. Medication and diet work really well for me. I am lucky.”
Until Venus disclosed her illness, Sjogren’s syndrome was a highly underdiagnosed, often misdiagnosed but common autoimmune disease. Many sufferers like Sarah Schafer were glad when the tennis star put a famous face on the problem. “It’s the most common disease that nobody’s heard of. It’s very helpful that Venus came forward about it, and maybe now it will get some attention and get the research funding it deserves,” says Dr. Schafer.
According to Jennifer Douglas who is also living with Sjögren’s syndrome, “One of the first things you learn when you are diagnosed with Sjögren’s is that there is no cure. It really becomes about managing symptoms and improving quality of life.” She shares her journey from initial symptoms to daily maintenance routine.
She is a member of the the Sjögren’s Foundation which advocates on its members’ behalf and supports Sjögren’s research. If you are interested in learning more about learning more about the work they do and would like to get involved, check out their website.