What is Gigi Hadid's thyroid disorder, Hashimoto's disease?

Dec 9, 2016 at 11:39 a.m. ET
Image: WENN.com

Gigi Hadid has a typically slender supermodel body, but when it comes to her weight, she has more to worry about than most of her fellow Victoria's Secret angels.

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Hadid revealed this week that she has Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease (also known as Hashimoto's disease.)

"My metabolism actually changed like crazy this year. I have Hashimoto’s disease," she said at Reebok’s #PerfectNever event in New York City. "It’s now been two years since taking the medication for it, so for the [Victoria’s Secret] show I didn’t want to lose any more weight."

What is Hashimoto's thyroiditis?

Hashimoto's is a disease in which the immune system attacks the body's own tissues, specifically the thyroid — a small gland at the front of the neck that produces hormones that regulate how the body uses energy. Hashimoto's is the most common cause of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), in which the thyroid does not produce enough hormones to meet the body's needs. This causes every function of the body to slow down, including heart rate, brain function and the rate the body turns food into energy.

While the exact cause of Hashimoto's is unknown, several factors may contribute. These include genes, sex hormones (women are seven times more likely to have Hashimoto's than men), pregnancy, excessive iodine levels and radiation exposure.

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What are the symptoms of Hashimoto's?

It's not unusual for symptoms of Hashimoto's to take many years to develop. Typically, the first sign of the disease is swelling at the front of the neck caused by an enlarged thyroid (a goiter.) While rarely painful, this may cause a feeling of fullness in the throat and cause difficulties swallowing. Other possible symptoms of the disease include weight gain, excessive tiredness, constipation, depression, a slowed heart rate, joint and muscle pain, hair loss and paleness or puffiness of the face. Women with Hashimoto's may have irregular or unusually heavy periods or struggle to get pregnant.

How is Hashimoto's treated?

There isn't a cure for Hashimoto's, but most people with the disease respond well to medication to regulate hormone levels and bring the metabolism back to normal. Once treatment begins, a doctor will carry out a test called a thyroid-stimulating hormone to monitor thyroid function as it responds to medication. Unfortunately, thyroid hormones act very slowly in the body, so it may take several months for the symptoms to disappear completely. If a large goiter does not shrink, surgery to remove it may be recommended.

Medication may have to be tweaked until a normal level of TSH is achieved. Thereafter, most patients have a checkup and further TSH tests once a year. In some circumstances, such as pregnancy or heart disease, the treatment dose may need to be changed, but most people find the dose doesn't have to be adjusted for many years or even decades.

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