Washington, D.C. -- Professional tennis superstar Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open tournament on Wednesday revealing that an autoimmune disease had curtailed her play. Williams says she was recently diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome adding that the disease had affected her energy level and was causing her fatigue and joint pain.
Georgetown University Medical Center rheumatologist Victoria Shanmugam, M.D., says Sjogren’s syndrome could impact an athletic career such as that of Venus Williams’, though there are some effective treatments for the disease.
Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammatory damage to tear and salivary glands. “Mild disease is usually characterized by dry eyes and a dry mouth. Other common manifestations include fatigue, myalgias, arthralgias and cognitive dysfunction.” Shanmugam who is not involved in Venus Williams’ care, says Sjogren’s can develop into a multi-organ disease similar to lupus.
“When other organs are involved, the syndrome becomes extraordinarily complex,” Shanmugam explains. She says problems that can include lung and liver inflammation, inflammation of the lining of the heart, inflammation in the kidney, gastroesophageal reflux, neuritis and neuropathy, skin manifestations including leg ulcers and other skin rashes; and conditions that put the patient at risk of developing lymphoma.
“Treatment for Sjogren’s ranges from therapies to alleviate symptoms, such as topical therapies for dry eyes and dry mouth, to drugs that suppress the immune system including hydroxychloroquine, methotrexate and steroids. We also use medications that help fight fatigue and fibromyalgia symptoms,” Shanmugam says.
Shanmugam is available to comment on Sjogren’s syndrome. To arrange an interview, please contact Karen Mallet at km463 (at) georgetown.edu.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2010-11, GUMC accounted for 85 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.