Tennis star Venus Williams recently went public about an illness that has given her trouble for years -- Sjogren's syndrome. Pronounced SHOW-grins, this disease is common in those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
By itself, Sjogren's is enough to derail even an otherwise-healthy competitive athlete. Williams had to withdraw from a recent tournament because she was too fatigued to lift her arm. She told the New York Times, "The fatigue is hard to explain unless you have it . . . . And the more I tried to push through it, the tougher it got." That's something I know most of us can relate to.
What is Sjogren's Syndrome?
Sjogren's, also called sicca, is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system is attacking your own tissues -- in this case, those tissues are moisture-producing glands. The primary symptoms are dry eyes and mouth.
However, it also comes with chronic fatigue (the symptom, not the syndrome), and possibly painful inflammation of joints, muscles, nerves, organs or other parts of the body. In addition, other areas, such as the vagina and the skin, can be abnormally dry.
This dryness isn't just uncomfortable, it can be a real health hazard. A chronically dry mouth can lead to oral infections, tooth decay, mouth pain and difficulty swallowing. Chronically dry eyes can develop ulcers.
When Sjogren's overlaps with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, it can be hard to spot. The key is to pay attention to dryness and ask your doctor about a it. Sjogren's is hard to diagnose, so expect an array of diagnostic efforts including an examination of your mouth and eyes, blood tests and possibly a biopsy of your salivary gland.
Sjogren's is treated differently depending on what symptoms you have. Here's more on that from About.com's Arthritis Guide Carol Eustice: Treating Sjogren's Syndrome.
The thing to remember is that Sjogren's must be treated differently than fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, and if it's left untreated, it'll make your other illness(es) worse.
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