Venus Williams Battling Sjogren's Syndrome, Rare Autoimmune Disease

Venus Williams, who withdrew from the U.S. Open on Wednesday, has revealed that she is suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome.

The rare autoimmune disease causes swelling, numbness, fatigue and debilitating joint pain, Williams told today. Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues – including its moisture-producing glands.

According to Williams, she has battled with the symptoms for years, however now she knows it is linked to Sjogren’s.

Venus told ABC, “I think I’ve had issues with Sjogren’s for a while. It just wasn’t diagnosed. The good news for me is now I know what’s happening.”

Symptoms of the condition vary and it is usually triggered by an infection. Although there is no cure for Sjogren’s there are treatments that make the condition more manageable. For example, anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce muscle and joint swelling and artificial tears and saliva stimulants can help the dryness caused by the disease.

“Sjogren’s is something you live with your whole life. 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 told ABC.

According to Williams, she “absolutely” plans to return to tennis.

The two-time champion withdrew from the U.S. Open before her second-round match on Wednesday. She was supposed to play 22nd-seeded Sabine Lisicki.

The 31-year-old has not played since losing the fourth round at Wimbledon to Tsvetana Pironkova. Williams missed the entire hard-court season because of a virus. On Monday, she played her first match in two months against Vesna Dolonts of Russia – winning 6-4, 6-3.

Venus Williams had stated she was healthy, but her mother Oracene Williams said Wednesday, “It’s something that’s been worrisome for a long time.”

On the heels of the Williams’ news, Christina McHale upset the eighth-seeded Marion Bartoli of France, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

The 19-year-old’s victory was an encouraging win for the American team – coming just minutes after the news of Venus’ withdrawal had spread.

Venus, along with her younger sister Serena, has redefined women’s tennis with her athleticism and strength. Williams turned pro in 1994 and since then has won seven Grand Slam titles, including five Wimbledon championships – joining the ranks of Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, the only women who have accomplished this.