The autoimmune disorder causes an overactive thyroid.

Jamie Ducharme
February 21, 2018

Talk show host Wendy Williams announced Wednesday that she's been diagnosed with Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that results in hyperthyroidism. The television personality said she will take a doctor-ordered three-week hiatus from The Wendy Williams Show as a result of the diagnosis.

Williams—who recently took time off for "flu-ish" symptoms and fainted on-air during an October broadcast—used the announcement to encourage women to make their health a priority. “What I want to say to women, more than men, is stop putting everyone first because if we’re not good, they’re not good,” Williams said.

Here's what to know about Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.

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What is Graves' disease?

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder, meaning it causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack its own cells. Graves' causes the thyroid to kick into overdrive—an umbrella diagnosis called hyperthyroidism. Although there are others causes, Graves' is the most common reason people develop hyperthyroidism, according to the American Thyroid Association. 

What are the symptoms of Graves' disease? 

The thyroid gland produces a slew of hormones that the body needs to function properly. So when it becomes overactive, producing too many of these hormones, many of the body's systems can go haywire, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can run the gamut from weight loss and fatigue to period changes and hand tremors.

In addition to the general symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Graves' disease can also cause eye and skin issues. About a third of patients develop Graves' ophthalmology, which can result in bulging eyes and inflammation and swelling of the surrounding tissues. (Williams mentioned that the disease has caused her eyeballs to twitch, a symptom viewers noticed before she did.) A small subset of patients may also get Graves’ dermopathy, according to the Mayo Clinic, which causes reddening and thickening of the skin on the front of the shins and the tops of the feet.

RELATED: I Have a Disease That Makes My Thyroid Go Haywire

How is Graves' disease treated?

Some medications tone down hyperthyroidism by targeting excess iodine, which the thyroid needs to produce hormones, while others block the effects of the hormones once they're made, according to the Mayo Clinic. In some cases, doctors may opt for surgery to remove part of the thyroid.

Patients who develop skin and eye issues may also require treatment for those specific symptoms, including over-the-counter remedies, prescription steroids, and sometimes surgery.

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Who is at risk for Graves' disease?

Women get the disease much more frequently than men, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health. It typically strikes women between the ages of 30 and 60.

Other risk factors include a family history, a history of other autoimmune disorders or certain infections, recent pregnancy, smoking, and severe emotional stress or trauma.