Tennis great Venus Williams, 31, may seem energetic and athletic in her US Open matches, but the sports star has disclosed that she suffers from a little-known autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome, named for Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren, is the second most common rheumatic autoimmune disease, striking four million Americans every year. It generally occurs in women over the age of 40, and can often result from an initial bout with lupus or other autoimmune disorders- such cases are known as secondary Sjögren’s syndrome.
Sjögren’s syndrome causes glandular malfunction and dryness, and there is no known cure or specific treatment for the condition. Williams- who was diagnosed last month- says doctors are doing their best to get her back in top form for her job:
“This is all new for me. I played a match at the Open, so I feel positive I can come back… I’ve been told it’s going to take three to six months for all the medication to sink in.”
However, the tennis star- who has not won a US Open title since 2008- says that in hindsight, the chronic yet hard to diagnose condition seems to have been affecting her game for some time. Williams discusses how the symptoms have worn her down mentally as well as physically:
“Looking back, it’s affected my career in a huge way. I’ve been playing a lot of matches with half a deck… It’s mentally destructive going into matches and wondering which balls can I run for and am I going to be able to compete.”
Williams has said she had to “pretend [she] felt good when [she] felt terrible,” but hopes to make a full recovery and comeback.