When Venus Williams bowed out of the U.S. Open last fall due to Sjogren’s syndrome, you may have thought, What? But her problem is more common than many think. Sjogren’s belongs to a group of some 80 autoimmune diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy tissue and organs.
Most such illnesses share a few traits: They are on the rise, run in families, are most prevalent in women, and are notoriously difficult to figure out. Patients often see four or more doctors over five years before being correctly diagnosed or finding proper treatment. The key is to identify the disease before it does any lasting damage. Here’s how a handful of women and their doctors unraveled the mysteries of five common conditions.