On Wednesday, talk show host Wendy Williams told viewers of her eponymous talk show that she will be taking a hiatus from her show following a recent diagnosis of Graves’ disease.

The TV personality had already taken some time off a week prior to her announcement due to flu-like symptoms, which the thyroid gland disease is known to cause.

Williams’ condition isn’t usually life threatening, but treatment can take a long time. Graves’ disease is classified as a common autoimmune disease — or a condition caused by a weird response by the immune system. These types of ailments usually cause fevers and grogginess, which is what Williams was probably experiencing before her diagnosis. But Graves’ disease brings about a whole host of other symptoms caused by hormone imbalances.

Bulgy eyes, enlarged thyroid, muscle weakness, fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping, and unintentional weight loss are some of the most common ones. All of these are triggered by the production of rogue antibodies that begin stimulating the thyroid.

The immune system defends the body against bacteria and viruses. One of the ways it does so is by deploying antibodies — proteins produced by white blood cells — that seek out and destroy any unwanted guests. Unfortunately, however, the immune system can sometimes slip up, producing antibodies that harm friendly cells.

In the case of Graves’ disease, antibodies known as thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI) suddenly start causing the thyroid to work overtime. Our butterfly-shaped thyroids, located at the front of our necks, produces hormones that regulate our body’s metabolic rate, heart, digestive system, muscle control, brain development, and bone maintenance.

In Graves’ disease, it’s not entirely clear what causes TSI to be released in the first place, but scientists think it’s likely triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Three-dimensional model of the thyroid gland.
Three-dimensional model of the thyroid gland.

As the thyroid, attacked by TSI, starts producing an overabundance of hormones, it becomes swollen and throws the body’s hormone balance out of whack, resulting in the aforementioned symptoms.

The thyroid disorder is a chronic illness that can only be completely cured by removing the thyroid. Treatment, however, usually involves prescription medication and lifestyle changes, like a more balanced diet and relaxation exercises, which may prevent stress-triggered disease.

Being diagnosed with something permanent is definitely a shock. Williams is most likely taking time off to recuperate from how she’s been feeling and set up a treatment plan that will keep her symptoms under control. Graves’ disease might be chronic, but fortunately it’s completely possible to lead a normal life with proper treatment.

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