There’s a reason they’re called invisible illnesses. People with autoimmune disorders don’t always appear sick to the outside world, even if they’re struggling with problems like fatigue, soreness and aches on a daily basis, and as a result, more people are impacted by them than you might think. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 23.5 million Americans struggle with autoimmune disorders. Many people struggle for years to get a diagnosis and proper treatment, and for many more there is still not always a clear path toward healing.
As a society we tend to link success and health, forgetting that celebrities often have their own private battles to face. Many celebrities with autoimmune disorders have been open and brave about their journeys with diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogrën’s and Hashimoto’s disease. Often, their openness can be a gift for others, letting those of us who have been struggling with autoimmune conditions know that we aren’t alone in our experiences.
Here are eleven celebrities who have spoken about their autoimmune journeys, their struggles and their successes.
Kim Kardashian West
In a 2011 episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Kim Kardashian revealed that she had been diagnosed with psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that affects the skin, along with psoriatic arthritis. Since her diagnosis she’s been candid about how the condition affects her life, sharing photos of flare ups on her face and keeping her followers updated on treatments she’s trying. Last September, she even wrote an essay for Poosh where she detailed her experiences living with the disease. “If you have psoriasis,” she wrote, “You can’t let it ruin your life or get the best of you. You have to do what you can to make sure you are comfortable but not let it take over.”
In 2015, Selena Gomez revealed that she had to take a break from touring in order to receive chemotherapy treatment for lupus. Two years later, she took to social media after a period of silence to let fans know she had undergone a lupus-related kidney transplant. In an Instagram post about the surgery she thanked her family, friends and doctors as well as her close friend who had donated the kidney. “Lupus continues to be very misunderstood but progress is being made,” the singer wrote. Last year, on the Giving Back Generation podcast, she also spoke about how lupus had caused her weight to fluctuate, and how the public response had been difficult for her: “I really started to notice when people started attacking me for that… That really messed me up for a bit.”
In 2017, just before the release of her documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, Lady Gaga tweeted out an announcement that she’d been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and would be postponing her upcoming tour as a result. The documentary, which came out shortly after, follows Gaga through the highs and lows of living as a star with chronic pain, showing the moments of strain and exhaustion that are often hidden from the public eye.
In an interview with Vogue the following year, the performer expressed frustration at people who try to invalidate her experiences with her autoimmune condition. “I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real. For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result. People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.”
The most decorated female tennis player to compete at the Olympic Games, Venus Williams has accomplished many of her athletic victories while also grappling with an autoimmune disorder. The athlete told Prevention.com that her symptoms began back in 2004, and she would frequently struggle with fatigue and shortness of breath that kept getting worse. Williams waited seven years before she was able to get a proper diagnosis: Sjögren’s Syndrome, which often causes dryness of the mouth and eyes as well as muscle pain, sore joints, and inflammation of major organs.
In 2011 her symptoms became so severe that she had to pull out of the U.S. Open and dropped out of the top 100 tennis players for the first time since 1996. She told Prevention.com that at first living with the disease was frustrating and challenging. “Before I was on medication, the quality of my life wasn’t as good because I was extremely uncomfortable,” Williams said. “Just being alive was very uncomfortable. I was exhausted to the point that I was just always uncomfortable or in pain.” She says her path to wellness is one with ups and downs as she works to manage her symptoms. “There are times when things are better and times when they’re not as good, that’s when you have to listen to your body and understand that.”
In 2019, actress Selma Blair made headlines for her stunning photos from the Vanity Fair Oscars Party where she used a custom monogrammed cane with a pink diamond. The year before she had revealed her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in an Instagram post full of humor and hope. “I have #multiplesclerosis,” she wrote. “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.” Since then she’s been open about her journey with MS, sharing photos of herself using a cane and speaking on the anxiety that the disease can cause.
In 2016, Zoe Saldana announced in an interview with The Edit that she had been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid system. She said she’s been predisposed to thyroid issues for most of her life, and her mother and her sisters also have Hashimoto’s. “Your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to filter toxins, causing it to believe that it has an infection, so it’s always inflamed. You create antibodies that attack your glands, so you have to eat clean,” she told The Edit. She said that taking an active role in wellness since her diagnosis had been helpful: “I learned the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, to avoid certain foods, and to make sure not to be deficient in selenium and vitamin D to assist my body so it doesn’t feel like it has to fight.”
During an interview with Good Morning America in 2012, Nick Cannon revealed that he had been diagnosed with lupus nephritis, a lupus-related disease that affects the kidneys. Earlier that year, he had been hospitalized after experiencing fatigue and swelling in his knees during a trip to Aspen; he was diagnosed with lupus shortly after. Cannon was honest with Lupus.org about his adjustment to his new normal: “I was constantly struggling with trying to have the same type of endurance and stamina that I had before the diagnosis,” he said, “and that made me have another setback that was even more serious.”
The following year he was hospitalized again for a pulmonary embolism caused by kidney malfunction, and had to be put on a special low-sodium diet and over twenty medications. He also left the radio show that he had hosted until 2009 to get more rest and make his health a priority. Cannon has since worked hard to learn as much as he can about lupus and connected with a community of others living with the same condition. “I try to be as optimistic and as hopeful and full of faith as possible. I truly believe those are the things that help. Faith changes things,” he told Lupus.org.
In 2018, Wendy Williams took three weeks off from her talk show after receiving a diagnosis of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid and can cause anxiety, hand tremors, fatigue and heat sensitivity. “My thyroid has been totally caddywampus,” she told her audience when she announced the doctor-prescribed hiatus. “What I must say, as women, when we have families we put everything before us… What I want to say to women is stop putting everyone else first because if we’re not good, they’re not good. Get stuff checked out.” The Wendy Williams Show, which has been filming remotely during the pandemic, paused again earlier this year to allow Williams to rest after experiencing Graves’-related fatigue.
Jane The Virgin star Gina Rodriguez told Self that she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism at 19 and Hashimoto’s disease at 26, but that it took her longer to come to terms with the her illness. The actress said she spent several years denying herself care, getting frustrated with weight fluctuations and diet restrictions. Eventually though, she decided to take a stand for her health. ““[Hashimoto’s] affects so many aspects of your life. I’ve had it for so many years…that rebellion of not taking care of myself can’t exist anymore,” she said. Recently, she’s been working with a nutritionist to narrow in on the foods that affect her negatively to improve her quality of life.
In 2018, model Gigi Hadid took to Twitter to educate some followers about her experience with Hashimoto’s disease. In a thread, she expressed frustration at strangers speculating about her weight changes and body shape. “Those of you who called me ‘too big for the industry’ were seeing inflammation and water retention due to [Hashimoto’s],” she tweeted. She explained that over the past few years she had gotten proper medical treatment to help with symptoms that included metabolism issues, fatigue and heat retention. Later in the thread, she said that this was the last time she’d be explaining the way her body looks to anyone. “Please, as social media users and human beings in general, learn to have more empathy for others and know that you never really know the whole story. Use your energy to lift those that you admire rather than be cruel to those you don’t,” she concluded.
Carrie Ann Inaba
And of course, there’s me. I’ve been diagnosed with several autoimmune conditions: lupus, Sjogrën’s, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and, most recently, vasculitis. For many years now, my life has been full of ups and downs, and lots of hard work to help me to feel my best, to land at a new normal that’s comfortable and sustainable. It hasn’t always been an easy or straightforward journey, but one of the things that’s always made the difference for me is community. Knowing that there are others out there, more than we think, all working hard to find solutions and make tomorrow better than yesterday was, is a thought that gives me comfort even when coping with my conditions is hard. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition or you’re still struggling to find answers, you’re not alone, and we’re all in this together.