Tennis superstar Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open last week, citing health concerns as her primary reason. Her condition, Sjogren's syndrome, is an autoimmune disease that results in a painful dryness of the mouth, eyes, nose and even skin.
Pronounced "show-grins," the condition affects women mostly and sometimes occurs with other painful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
In essence, Sjogren's stems from the body being its own worst enemy. A person's immune system mistakenly believes certain glands are invaders, so it attacks them and limits their ability to produce tears and saliva along the way.
Although there's no cure for the disease, doctors work to help mitigate symptoms through staying hydrated and using eye drops.
In addition to the pain and discomfort, the disease has the potential to feed into other health problems, according to one LA Times post on the topic. For instance, producing less saliva renders teeth more vulnerable to acid and cavities. Also, Sjogren's can take a toll on patients' organs and nerves in more severe cases.
It's also unclear what causes the disease, but researchers suspect a previous assault on the immune system — perhaps a viral infection — may kick start Sjogren's. Once diagnosed, people usually live the rest of their lives with the condition. At present, an estimated 1.3 million Americans live with the syndrome.
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