Tennis star Venus Williams is the older of the Williams’ sisters and the one who is known for her risque fashion. (I don’t pay enough attention to sports and I sometimes confuse her with her sister, Serena, which is why I’m specifying.)
Venus was formerly ranked No. 1 in women’s tennis in the world and she’s now at 32 in singles and 20 in doubles, so she’s force to be reckoned with. Her health has led her to be sidelined, though. Venus just pulled out of the US Open and made an announcement that she was diagnosed with a disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome.
In an interview on Good Morning America today Venus said that she felt for years that her stamina was low no matter how much she trained. She explained that about four years ago she felt like she could never get enough air in her lungs. She was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma at the time. This year she experienced joint swelling, dry eyes and dry mouth as well as fatigue and peripheral nueropathy, which are all symptoms of Sjorgen’s. She explained that it normally takes six and a half years to get diagnosed with Sjorgen’s.
I think I’ve had issues with Sjogren’s for a while. It just wasn’t diagnosed,” Williams said. “The good news for me is now I know what’s happening.”
Sjogren’s is usually triggered by an infection. The symptoms vary, but usually include dryness in the mouth and eyes, joint and muscle inflammation, and fatigue.
“I had trouble with stamina,” Williams said, adding that her doctor diagnosed her with exercise-induced asthma four years ago. But it wasn’t until this summer, when she developed more definite symptoms, that an accurate diagnosis was made.
“I had swelling and numbness and fatigue, which was really debilitating. I just didn’t have any energy,” Williams said. “And it’s not that you don’t have energy; you just feel beat up.”
Deciding to drop out of the U.S. Open wasn’t easy, Williams said.
“… I just felt like, ‘Okay, I could walk out on the court. I’m a tough woman, I’m a tough athlete, I’ve played through a lot of things.’ But what kind of match it would be?” she said. “It was a tough decision, but at the same time I’ve had to come to accept what I’m going through.”
Williams said she’s glad to finally have an explanation for her mysterious, debilitating symptoms.
“It’s a huge relief because as an athlete everything is physical for me — everything is being fit and being in shape,” she said. “I think the best thing that could have happened for me this summer was to feel worse so I could feel better.”
While Sjogren’s has no cure, there are treatments that make symptoms more manageable: Artificial tears and saliva stimulants can ease dryness; anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce joint and muscle inflammation; and certain drugs can help quell the overactive immune response.
“Sjogren’s is something you live with your whole life,” Williams said. “The good news for me is now I know what’s happening after spending years not knowing… I feel like I can get better and move on.”
Williams said she “absolutely” plans to return to tennis.
I’ve had health problems in my life. I’m doing great and am hopefully fully recovered now, but years ago there were months when I could barely get around the house and needed a wheelchair outside. So when I hear about health problems I think I get it. I don’t fully remember how bad it was to be that sick, but I was there. It can be awful when your body betrays you. For an athlete, it must be especially devastating. I hope that Venus is able to get the treatment that she needs. I found her story very well told and she sounded like she’s come to terms with it. She will surely bring more awareness to this disease.
You can learn more about Sjogren’s on the website for the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation.
Here’s Venus playing tennis on 8/29 and out with her dog on 8/10. Credit: WENN.com