Venus Williams’ Withdrawal from U.S. Open Highlights Need for Women to Take Autoimmune Disease Symptoms Seriously

Lupus Research Institute Urges Women to Seek Medical Attention for Severe Fatigue and Joint Pain

NEW YORK, NY – September 1, 2011 – The stunning announcement last night of Venus Williams’ withdrawal from the U.S. Open tennis tournament due to a debilitating and difficult to diagnose autoimmune disease is important news for all women suffering similar symptoms. The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) President Margaret Dowd encourages women to speak to their physician if they have symptoms that include overwhelming fatigue and joint pain.

Sjögren’s syndrome often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, taking an average of 6.5 years to identify and treat. The difficulty lies mainly in the similarity of its symptoms to those of other autoimmune diseases. Sjögren's (SHOH-grins) syndrome is one of 80+ autoimmune diseases; it can occur as a primary condition or as a secondary disorder associated with other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. A leading cause of death and disability that affects more than 23.5 million Americans, autoimmune disease means that because of a flaw in the immune system, the body is unable to tell the difference between self and non-self, producing antibodies that attack its own normal cells.

“In comments to the press, Ms. Williams expressed disappointment at being unable to compete because of severe fatigue and pain, but gratitude for recently receiving a diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome that explained symptoms she had been feeling for some time,” said Ms. Dowd. “Unfortunately, her experience is not uncommon; proper diagnosis can take years. Autoimmune disease is particularly prevalent among women in their childbearing years, which is why we particularly urge all young women to seek medical attention if they often feel overwhelmingly tired or have recurring joint pain.”