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Missy Elliott has Graves' disease--what is it?

June 23, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Missy Elliott, shown here at the 2006 Grammy Awards, reportedly has Graves' disease, the autoimmune disorder in which the thyroid gland overproduces hormones.
Missy Elliott, shown here at the 2006 Grammy Awards, reportedly has Graves'… (Kevin Winter / Getty Images )

Missy Elliott has been out of the limelight for a few years now because she’s battling Graves' disease, undergoing treatment that has included radiation, according to media reports. The disease, which affects the thyroid gland, may not be familiar to most people, but it can cause a long litany of unpleasant symptoms.

Essentially, Graves' disease causes too much thyroid hormone to be produced, a condition called hyperthyroidism. The thyroid gland’s hormones help regulate the body’s metabolism, affecting mood, weight and energy. But in people with Graves' disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to overproduce thyroid hormone.

Having too much thyroid hormone can cause rapid heart rate, anxiety, tremors, weight loss, double vision, insomnia, increased sweating, fatigue, muscle weakness, menstrual irregularities and, in men, enlarged breasts. And that’s just for starters.  Other classic signs of Graves' disease include an enlarged thyroid gland, or goiter, and bulging eyes. Missy Elliott appears to have suffered a few of these, according to this USA Today article.

Beta blockers can quell the high heart rate and nervousness, but there isn’t a treatment to stop the immune system from attacking the thyroid gland. So anti-thyroid medications are used to prevent the excess production of thyroid hormone.  These medications are often taken alongside doses of radioactive iodine, which shrink the gland, or with surgery that removes the gland altogether. The Mayo Clinic outlines the options.

Then the opposite problem occurs – hypothyroidism, in which the body can’t produce enough, if any, thyroid hormone. Patients must then take medications so they get enough thyroid hormone; otherwise, the outlook is weight gain, depression and sluggishness.

Women are more likely to get the disease than men, and it usually develops after age 20. 

According to reports, Elliott had radiation treatments. She’s quoted as saying:

"My thyroid is functioning, so I haven't had to take medication in about nine months. [But] you live with it for the rest of your life."

If the disease is untreated, complications get worse over time. But, if diagnosed properly, the disease is no cause for panic. WebMD offers an overview:

“Although the symptoms can cause discomfort, Graves' disease generally has no long-term adverse health consequences if the patient receives prompt and proper medical care.”

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