What Is Hashimoto’s Disease? What to Know About Gigi Hadid’s Diagnosis

On Sunday afternoon, Gigi Hadid made a powerful statement against people shaming her for being “too thin.” The model said her body has been changing over the years because of a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease. And not that it matters why her body is changing, by the way—her modeling ability doesn’t change because of her body size.

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“For those of you so determined to come up [with] why my body has changed over the years, you may not know that when I started [at] 17 I was not yet diagnosed [with] Hashimoto’s disease,” she wrote. “Those of [you] who called me ‘too big for the industry’ were seeing inflammation [and] water retention due to that.” Here’s what you need to know about Hadid’s diagnosis.

Hashimoto’s disease, which affects the thyroid gland in the neck, is more accurately called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, says Dr. Woody Sistrunk, an endocrinologist and thyroidologist based in Jackson, Mississippi. With Hashimoto’s, your immune system creates antibodies that go after your thyroid gland. “The body views the thyroid as foreign, and over time can slowly attack the thyroid, and the thyroid over time may become more underactive,” he says. Antibodies, which are usually meant to fight infections, are created to go after the thyroid in Hashimoto’s patients. This can lead to an underactive thyroid, a condition called hypothyroidism.

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Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the cause of the vast majority of cases of hypothyroidism, which is a fairly common and readily treatable condition, says Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, a clinical endocrinologist who is an associate professor of medicine at Boston University and the president-elect of the American Thyroid Association. “About five percent of people will have hypothyroidism, and up to 15 percent of adults make the antibodies [that attack the thyroid],” she says. That means not everyone with the antibodies will develop hypothyroidism.

Hadid mentioned on Twitter that she had been experiencing fatigue, metabolism issues, and an increased sensitivity to cold, which are all classic symptoms of hypothyroidism. And she also mentioned water retention, another common symptom, which can result in a puffier appearance. When a patient is treated, they may lose the fluid they were retaining, and the puffiness can go down.

Gigi and Bella Hadid before the Prabal Gurung show.

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The science isn’t conclusive over how thyroid conditions affect your weight. “The popular perception is that hypothyroidism causes tremendous weight gain,” Dr. Pearce says. “The reality is it’s actually not very well studied.” That’s because it’s hard to figure out how much a person gained as a result of their thyroid condition versus other factors. But once a patient is treated, they often do lose a few pounds, though the results vary from person to person and it may be mostly water weight that’s lost.

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It’s unclear what actually causes Hashimoto’s, but doctors do know it runs in families. “Especially if a mother has it, it’s about a 50 percent chance of daughters having it,” Dr. Sistrunk says. “If a father has it, the chance is actually higher than that for all offspring. If Dad has it, good gosh, everybody’s fair game.” In general, it’s more common in women than in men, and it’s more common as people get older.

Hadid wrote that once she got her diagnosis, she started taking medication and went through a holistic medical trial to treat her condition. (Neither Dr. Sistrunk nor Dr. Pearce had any idea what she meant by a holistic medical trial.) Doctors usually test for Hashimoto’s disease using a simple blood test. Treatment mainly includes taking synthetic thyroid hormones by taking a pill, usually once a day. People with hypothyroidism likely will have to continue treatment for the rest of their lives.

Gigi Hadid walking in the Jeremy Scott Fall 2018 show.

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In general, both doctors recommend keeping your thyroid in mind when you go for your yearly checkup with your general physician. Usually an annual blood test and neck exam can detect thyroid issues. And that’s especially important for women of childbearing age, since untreated thyroid disease can affect pregnancy and even lead to low IQ in a child.

Perhaps Hadid herself put it best when describing her own treatment. “I feel healthier internally and I am learning and growing with my body everyday, as everyone is,” she wrote. “I will not further explain the way my body looks, just as anyone with a body type that doesn’t suit [your] ‘beauty’ expectation.” And that’s a lesson for everyone to take to heart.

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