Venus Williams (Getty Images)

Venus Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open shortly before her second-round match was scheduled to begin Wednesday, explaining that she suffers from Sjogren's syndrome, a hard-to-diagnose autoimmune disorder that can cause dry eyes and mouth and painful joints.

Williams, 31, gave no hint that she was contemplating retirement in the statement she issued, saying, "I enjoyed playing my first match here and wish I could continue, but right now I am unable to. I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon."

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Sjogren's syndrome is a disease in which a person's white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands. Roughly 4 million Americans suffer from it, according to Steven Taylor, chief executive of the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation.

"Surely the disease does affect quality of life," Taylor said. "It's life-altering but not life-threatening. We see people who are very healthy, doing the things they have always done — but just monitoring themselves and taking care of themselves."

It's unclear how long Williams has had the symptoms or when the condition was diagnosed. After her straight-sets victory Monday, she referred to health challenges. "A lot of the battle is just trying to be fit and stay healthy," Williams said. "Sometimes I've been losing that battle a lot … No one is more in one-match-at-a-time mode than me now at this tournament. It will just be one match at a time, for sure."

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It was unclear in the aftermath of Williams' announcement whether or when she would return to competition. The good news is that the condition is not life threatening and need not be career ending for a world-class athlete. 

Read more at the Washington Post.

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