Celebrities With Autoimmune Diseases

Nick Cannon reclining on a low sofaOur bodies have an immune system, which is a complex network of special cells and organs that defends the body from germs and other foreign invaders.

At the core of the immune system is the ability to tell the difference between what belongs to the body and what’s foreign. A flaw can make the body unable to tell the difference between self and non-self.

When this happens, the body makes auto-antibodies that attack normal cells by mistake. At the same time special cells called regulatory T cells fail to do their job of keeping the immune system in line.

The result is a misguided attack on your own body. This causes the damage we know as autoimmune disease. The body parts that are affected depend on the type of autoimmune disease. There are more than 80 known types.

Some autoimmune diseases are more common or more severely affect certain groups of people more than others. For instance, type 1 diabetes is more common in whites. Lupus is most severe for African Americans.

Here are just a few of the black celebrities who have been diagnosed with autoimmune diseases:

toni-braxton-2Toni Braxton – Lupus

Lupus has many shades. It can affect people of different races,
ethnicities, and ages, both men and women. It can look like different
diseases. It’s different for every person who has it and anyone can get
it. But African Americans are four times more like to be lupus victims
than other races. Women of color are two to three times more likely than white women to develop lupus.

Braxton, who recently was hospitalized with lupus complications, originally revealed her diagnosis at a lupus benefit. She says, “Lupus medication actually causes most women to gain weight. But we’re still fabulous! I’m going to work it on out.”

Corticosteroids—one of the mainstays of lupus treatment—can indeed promote weight gain. Still, exercise can help people with lupus manage their weight and will also improve their quality of life, Isherwood says.


Nick Cannon

The 31-year-old has revealed that the kidney disease he was hospitalized for earlier this year was a result of an autoimmune disease, People magazine reported.

The kidney disease was caused by “autoimmune disease that [doctors] found in my system,” Cannon told People, and went on to say that the doctors told him his “autoimmune [disease] is — like a lupus type of thing, but no one else in my family has it.”

While Cannon didn’t explain further what his disease was, we know that autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells. There are more than 100 autoimmune diseases, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association.


Seal – Lupus

The famous British singer was diagnosed with discoid lupus when he was child. What could be considered trademark scarring on his face is a result of his illness.

The scars on the singer’s face are the result of discoid lupus erythematosus, a type of lupus involving only the skin. Discoid lupus typically causes sores on the face and scalp but can affect the skin anywhere on the body. It can also cause hair loss. People with discoid lupus are often sensitive to ultraviolet light, and need to be careful about sun exposure.

Ten percent of people with discoid lupus will go on to develop systemic lupus, Isherwood says, although it’s possible these individuals already had the illness but just weren’t diagnosed.


Venus Williams – Sjogren’s Syndrome

Earlier this fall, tennis superstar Venus Williams announced she has Sjogren’s syndrome, telling the Associated Press that the disease sapped her energy and made it difficult for her to compete.

With Sjogren’s, a person’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands, leading to issues like dry eyes and dry mouth, according to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, as well as more serous complications, including extreme fatigue. It is one of the most prevalent autoimmune disorders, the organization states, and nine out of 10 sufferers are women.

The good news? After several months off, Williams had a triumphant return to the court in late November.


Tim Raines – Lupus

When playing left field for the Oakland Athletics in 1999, Raines sought medical attention for extreme fatigue. He had swelling in his knees and ankles and was 15 pounds heavier than normal, suggesting he was retaining water; his doctor ordered a kidney biopsy, and diagnosed lupus.

The disease was attacking Raines’ kidneys, throwing off the normal balance of water and salt in his body. His case was severe, but he improved with radiation therapy and medication. Raines even went back to baseball, joining the Montreal Expos in 2001, and retiring in 2002 with the Florida Marlins.


Michael Jackson- Lupus

The King of Pop was no stranger to controversy or conversation about his health. In 1986, Jackson was diagnosed with vitiligo and lupus; the vitiligo partially lightened his skin, and the lupus was in remission; both illnesses made him sensitive to sunlight, which could have caused his lupus condition to recur.

Jackson had a form of skin lupus, called discoid lupus, which affects about 40 percent of the patients with lupus, which can can lead to depigmentation of the skin, among other things.


Missy Elliott – Graves’ Disease

When rapper Missy Elliott fell out of the public eye a few years back, it was because she was quietly dealing with Graves’ disease, according to USA Today. The autoimmune disease impacts the thyroid and can lead to goiter, fatigue, insomnia, eye problems and more.

Indeed, according to USA Today, Elliott’s condition was so debilitating, the star couldn’t write or drive a car.


Montel Williams – Multiple Sclerosis

Former talkshow host Montel Williams announced back in 1999 that he had multiple sclerosis, the autoimmune disease that impacts the brain and spinal cord. He then began an effort to raise awareness and funding for research, starting The Montel Williams Foundation.

“When the neurologist said those three words — ‘You have MS’ — it hit me like a brick,” Williams said on his website.

“It became clear that I had a choice to make. I could spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself as the victim of a tragic fate. Or I could view my illness as a call to action,” he continued.