5 Celebs Living With Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease

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Healthy people have healthy immune systems. A healthy immune system is able to protect your body from countless sources of infection, which are extant in the world around us. Some people, however, have problems with their immune systems. In people with autoimmune disease, the immune system ends up attacking healthy cells in the body thus causing damage.

Nobody knows what exactly causes autoimmune disease—as with many other illnesses, genetics and environment likely play big roles. We do know that autoimmune disease is more prevalent among women of color—African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases out there. Many of these diseases share core characteristics. For instance, most people with autoimmune disease experience some degree of inflammation, or heat, redness, and pain of the skin, joints and so forth. Other common symptoms of autoimmune disease include fever, muscle aches and fatigue.

People with autoimmune disease typically experience "good" and "bad" days. In other words, autoimmune disease tends to flare up at certain times and get worse at other times. With many types of autoimmune disease, a specialist can prescribe corticosteroids, which can reduce symptoms and prevent recurrences. Corticosteroids are immunosuppressants, which work by dampening the immune response which goes haywire in people with autoimmune disease.

Here are 5 celebrities with autoimmune disease:

Selena Gomez & Lupus

Selena Gomez
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Children (and parents) of the early aughts may first remember Selena Gomez from her turn as one of Barney's friends on Barney & Friends. Later that decade, Gomez rose to prominence as a Disney starlet on Wizards of Waverly Place. She later went on to form a band, Selena Gomez & the Scene (later dropping "the Scene") and starred in such adult fare as Spring Breakers. However, we all probably know Gomez best from her on-again-off-again relationship with The Biebs (Justin Bieber).

In 2013 after Gomez abruptly stopped touring, the rumor mill went into overdrive. In a late 2015 interview with Billboard, we learned that Gomez took time off to receive treatment for lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Apparently, Gomez had such a severe case of this illness that she needed chemotherapy to get her life back on track.

With lupus, the body's immune system mistakenly identifies normal cells, tissue and organs as foreign, including the skin, joints, heart, brain and kidneys. Because of its systemic, or system-wide effects, lupus can result in a variety of symptoms including the following:

  • skin (malar or butterfly) rash
  • chest pain
  • fever
  • mouth sores
  • fatigue
  • hair loss
  • general malaise

More specific symptoms of lupus depend on the organ systems being attacked and can include the following:

  • headache (neurological)
  • nausea and vomiting (gastrointestinal)
  • abnormal heart rhythms (cardiovascular)
  • swelling (kidneys)
  • difficulty breathing (respiratory system)

Unfortunately, no cure exists for lupus. Instead, symptoms are treated with different drugs including NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) for muscle and joint pain, low- and high-dose corticosteroids as well as chemotherapeutic agents, such as methotrexate, azathioprine, cyclosporine, mycophenolate and cyclophosphamide.

Toni Braxton & Lupus

Toni Braxton
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In the 1990s, R&B diva Toni Braxton ruled the charts with number-one hits such as "Un-Break My Heart" and "You're Makin' Me High." Braxton also went on to sell tens of millions of albums and win a slew of Grammy, American Music and Billboard Music Awards.

In recent years, Braxton has been open about her battle with lupus and how its slowed both her and her career down. Like many people with lupus, and more generally autoimmune disease, Braxton's condition waxes and wanes. For example, in 2012 she was hospitalized with a flare-up.

In an interview with HuffPost Live, Braxton stated the following:

Some days I can’t balance it all. I just have to lay [sic] in bed. Pretty much when you have lupus you feel like you have the flu every day. But some days you get through it. But for me, if I’m not feeling well, I tend to tell my kids, ‘Oh mommy’s just going to relax in bed today.['] I kind of take it easy.

Kim Kardashian & Psoriasis

Kim Kardashian
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Without getting into the salacious details, over the years Kim Kardashian has shown us a lot of skin. In recent years, however, skin shots of a different sort have popped up on the Internet: images showing lesions on Kardashian's legs that are typical of psoriasis.

Psoriasis affects between two and three percent of all Americans. Although psoriasis comes in different flavors, it typically presents as a skin condition which involves reddish papules and plaques with silvery scales. Psoriasis commonly affects the elbows, knees, hands, feet, trunk and nails.

Psoriasis is a genetic condition—Kim's mom, Kris Jenner, also has it—which can be triggered by infection, trauma and medications.

The symptoms of psoriasis can be treated with a wide variety of agents, many of which adjust pathological immune responses (are immunomodulators). Possible treatments include topical corticosteroids, topical vitamin D3, methotrexate, cyclosporine and phototherapy.

Kathleen Turner & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Kathleen Turner and Danny Devito
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In the 1980s, Kathleen Turner was box-office gold with starring roles in films like Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile and The War of the Roses. Of note, all these movies also starred Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito.

By her own admission, Turner is no longer the entertainment draw she once was and life's been a challenge in recent years. Specifically, Turner has been battling rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, for the past two decades.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that usually begins in middle age. This condition involves swelling, pain and stiffness of the joints as well as loss of function in the joints. Although rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints of the fingers and wrists, this disease can end up attacking other anatomical sites, including the mouth, lungs and eyes.

Fortunately, Turner has recently been feeling better and even experienced remission from rheumatoid arthritis. She credits her better health to newer drugs (think biologics or biologic DMARDs, such as etanercept, infliximab and golimumab); exercise; and orthotics.

Jay Cutler & Type 1 Diabetes

Jay Cutler
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Okay, so everyone whom we've looked at so far has been a woman, a woman of color, or both, which gels with the fact that most people with autoimmune disease belong to these demographic groups. However, anyone can develop autoimmune disease, including a big, strapping quarterback like Jay Cutler. Cutler was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2008, when he played for the Denver Broncos.

Surprised to learn that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease? Learn more about type 1 diabetes here.

Selected Sources

Gudjonsson JE, Elder JT. Chapter 18. Psoriasis. In: Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, Gilchrest BA, Paller AS, Leffell DJ, Wolff K. eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012. Accessed March 28, 2016.