Williams has Graves disease, a condition that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid. It often goes undiagnosed because its symptoms run a wide spectrum.
Talk show host Wendy Williams announced to her viewers on Wednesday that she was ordered by her doctor to take a three-week hiatus from her daytime show. The time off, she said with both emotion and humor, will be used to deal with her health issues, particularly Graves disease.
I’d heard of Graves disease prior to Williams’ reveal, but I knew little about it other than both George and Barbara Bush were diagnosed with it (it is not contagious). Upon speaking with a doctor who specializes in the disease, as well as with people living with it, I learned that it’s an extremely complex and deeply disruptive condition that, if not treated, can lead to heart and bone issues and fatal complications (although rare).
AN AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE THAT TURNS ON THE THYROID AND OFTEN THE EYES
Wendy Williams actually described Graves disease pretty well when she said that her thyroid had been “totally cattywampus.” But for a more scientific definition, let’s turn to Dr. Terry Jay Smith, a professor at the University of Michigan Medical School who specializes in endocrinology.
“Graves disease is an autoimmune disease. The immune system incorrectly identifies the thyroid as foreign,” he tells NBC News BETTER, adding that about 98 percent of his patients have the condition. “Because of this misidentification, antibodies are generated and there are T-cells that intersect in their surveillance and produce factors which, in the case of Graves disease, frequently cause the over-activity of the thyroid gland, [aka hyperthyroidism].”
Named after Robert Graves, (the first physician to describe this type of hyperthyroidism), this disease can also have a devastating impact on the eyes, which Williams alluded to in her reveal. This is a common effect of Graves, because, as Dr. Smith explains, the immune system may also mistake the tissues in the back of the eye as foreign.
“About half of the people with Graves who develop over-activity of the thyroid also develop a very peculiar process around the eye which causes the eye to become inflamed and to bulge,” says Dr. Smith.
A message from Wendy. pic.twitter.com/tDzsW1s6kf
— Wendy Williams (@WendyWilliams) February 21, 2018