Just months after welcoming her son, Tristan, Heather Rae El Moussa began experiencing crippling fatigue. It may be easy to write off that symptom as a part of the postpartum experience, but it went beyond that: The new mom also experienced a significant drop in her milk supply.
“I remember saying to my assistant, ‘I feel like I’m dead,'" El Moussa told Today.com. “My brain was so tired. My body was so tired. I was exhausted all the time, and no amount of sleep could make it better.”
Initially, she thought “mom brain” was to blame — but after a lactation consultant suggested she have some blood work done, El Moussa learned she had an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s Disease — and she was shocked.
What is Hashimoto's disease, and is it serious?
If you’ve heard of Hashimoto’s Disease, it may be because of stars like El Moussa (along with Gigi Hadid and Zoe Saldana), who are vocal about their own experiences with the condition. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that can cause hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The condition is common, affecting about 5 percent of people, and its symptoms can include fatigue, weight gain, joint pain, heavy or irregular periods, trouble with memory or concentration, and more. While anyone can develop Hashimoto’s, people assigned female at birth are 10 times more likely to develop the condition, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Like most issues that affect women, there’s an element of mystery surrounding Hashimoto’s. For one thing, many people have never even heard of the condition. For another, Hashimoto’s progresses slowly, and the symptoms aren’t super specific, which can make them really tough to identify. Symptoms also vary widely and can appear with other conditions. The exact cause of Hashimoto’s, which is classified as an autoimmune disease, is unclear, according to Mayo Clinic.
Additionally, Hashimoto’s — again, like most issues that affect women — is clearly not taken seriously, as evidenced by reactions to the news that El Moussa was diagnosed with the condition. “Hashimotos? That’s like saying she has a pimple,” one commenter writes alongside a social media post announcing El Moussa’s diagnosis. Another writes “Why is this news?? She probably shit today, you wanna report that!!!”. Yet another writes: “Very curable. I’ve had it for years. This should not be news.”
But others are weighing in with comments to express the ways Hashimoto’s has affected their own lives. “Everyone [is] so uneducated on Hashimoto's [sic]. Ruined my life for years. Incurable just manageable,” one user writes.
And another commenter writes: “I wasn’t able to work for a year, the longest time I’ve been on a stable dose has been 3 months. I had fertility problems and when I finally got pregnant my dose was almost doubled. It still affects me because not all Hashimoto patients are feeling normal even [though] they are dosed correctly. I get tired, my energy levels are down and I have trouble concentrating. For most people, you can pick up your normal life, but some can’t.”
Like most conditions, Hashimoto’s can affect people in a number of ways, and severity can vary as well. As people point out, Hashimoto’s is a condition that can be managed with hormone replacement medication, according to the Mayo Clinic. But of course, in order to treat the condition, you have to first diagnose it, which can be a challenge. If left untreated, complications of Hashimoto’s can include heart problems, mental health issues, sexual dysfunction, poor pregnancy outcomes, and a rare but life-threatening condition called myxedema.
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For some people, a Hashimoto’s diagnosis may mean a lifestyle overhaul. Research suggests that dietary modifications can be helpful in managing the condition, though this is a complementary management strategy, not a substitute for medical treatment, according to recent research, which suggests that anti-inflammatory nutrients (such as vitamin D, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, magnesium, and zinc) can be helpful in managing the condition. The research also suggests limiting saturated fatty acids, refined carbohydrates, and sugar, which can be inflammatory. The Mediterranean diet may be the way to go as far as lifestyle management for Hashimoto’s goes. But let’s be honest: Any time you have to modify your diet or lifestyle, it’s a big deal — and it’s just another reason why the invalidation of people with this condition needs to stop.
The bottom line? Hashimoto’s can be managed (though not cured) with medication — but that doesn’t mean it's not a big deal, that it doesn’t affect the lives of people who have the condition, or that it’s something we — whether we’re celebrities like El Moussa or just regular people — shouldn’t open up about.