10 Celebrities with Chronic Illnesses

10 Celebrities with Chronic Illnesses

Angelina Jolie Pitt

(Image credit: PAN Photo Agency | Shutterstock.com)

They may be beautiful, rich and famous, but celebrities are human too, and that means they're just as prone to getting sick as the rest of us.

And just like us, some celebs even live with chronic conditions that can take a toll on their day-to-day lives.

So, in addition to spa treatments and relaxing getaways, celebrities also take time out of their busy schedules to be poked and prodded by doctors. And while their assistants may pick up their prescriptions, they still need to make sure to take their meds.

Though being diagnosed with a condition is always unfortunate, a celebrity's illness can sometimes offer a silver lining to others with the condition by helping to raise awareness of the disease.

Take, for example, Angelina Jolie's 2013 announcement in The New York Times that she had undergone a double mastectomy after learning that she carried a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which increases a woman's risk for breast cancer. Researchers dubbed the increase in awareness of the role of genetics in breast cancer "The Angelina Effect."

Here are 10 celebrities with chronic illnesses and how they live with them.

Selena Gomez: Lupus

selena gomez

Selena Gomez (Image credit: Joe Seer/Shutterstock.com)

Pop star Selena Gomez canceled her 2013 tour when she was diagnosed with lupus.

After her diagnosis, Gomez underwent a round of treatment and took a break from the public eye, she told Billboard magazine in 2015.

The chronic autoimmune disease is much more common in women than in men, and is typically diagnosed when women are of childbearing age.

When a person has lupus, the body attacks its own cells as if they were harmful invaders, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. This can cause symptoms throughout the body, ranging from skin rashes and mouth ulcers to kidney problems and inflammation of various organs.

There is no cure for lupus, but there are treatments, such as corticosteroids and monoclonal antibodies, to help people with the condition manage their symptoms. For people with more serious forms of the disease, drugs that were developed to treat cancer may be used.

Other celebs, such as Nick Cannon, Lady Gaga, Toni Braxton and Seal, also have lupus.

Lena Dunham: Endometriosis

lena dunham

(Image credit: DFree | Shutterstock.com)

Writer and actress Lena Dunham described her decade-long struggle with endometriosis in her November 2015 newsletter, Lenny Letter.

Dunham said that, since puberty, she has suffered from irregular periods, abdominal pain and chronic exhaustion. Her life changed the moment she finally received the diagnosis of endometriosis, Dunham wrote. 

Endometriosis occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus become displaced and grow in other areas of the abdomen or body, leading to pain and irregular bleeding. The condition can also cause problems when women try to get pregnant. 

Medications can help women manage the pain associated with endometriosis and slow the progression of the disease. In some scenarios, surgery is used to remove growths of endometrial cells from the body, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

Other celebrities with endometriosis include Susan Sarandon, Padma Lakshmi and Jillian Michaels.

Charlie Sheen: HIV

Charlie Sheen, who announced today (Nov. 17, 2015) he is HIV positive, is seen here at a movie opening in Los Angeles on May 7, 2015.

Charlie Sheen, who announced today (Nov. 17, 2015) he is HIV positive, is seen here at a movie opening in Los Angeles on May 7, 2015. (Image credit: CarlaVanWagoner / Shutterstock.com)

Actor Charlie Sheen made headlines in 2015 when he announced in an interview with Matt Lauer on the NBC show "Today" that he is HIV positive.

Sheen had learned of his diagnosis about four years prior to his announcement, he said.

But HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is no longer considered a death sentence as it was decades ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1.2 million Americans are currently living with HIV.

HIV destroys one type of immune system cell, called T cells, which makes it difficult for people with the virus to fight off infections. When HIV has wiped out a larger percentage of a person's T cells, he or she is considered to have acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

Today, medications known as antiretroviral therapy can help slow the progression of HIV and also protect the body's immune system, according to the CDC.

And new preventive medications called pre-exposure prophylaxis, which can be taken as a daily pill, have been shown to be highly effective in preventing infection with HIV in people who have a high risk of contracting it. 

Tom Hanks: Diabetes

Tom Hanks & Thomas Horn at the 2012 Palm Springs Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Centre. January 7, 2012

Tom Hanks & Thomas Horn at the 2012 Palm Springs Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Centre. January 7, 2012 (Image credit: Paul Smith / Featureflash | Shutterstock)

Actor Tom Hanks announced that he has type 2 diabetes during an interview on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in 2013.

Hanks said he had been dealing with high blood sugar levels for years when his doctor told him they were high enough to meet the criteria for diabetes, he told Letterman. (When a person's blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to be considered diabetes, they have what is known as "prediabetes.")

When a person has diabetes, the body cannot effectively control its blood sugar levels. Diabetes can increase a person's risk for heart disease and, if unmanaged, can cause serious problems, including nerve damage, blindness and kidney failure.

A 2015 study from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that about half of American adults have either diabetes or prediabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can be managed with regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Actress Halle Berry and celebrity chef Paula Deen also have announced that they have diabetes.

Kim Kardashian: Psoriasis

kim kardashian

(Image credit: DFree | Shutterstock.com)

After finding red, flaky patches of skin on her legs in 2011, the "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" star was diagnosed with psoriasis on an episode of her family's TV reality show. Her mother, Kris Jenner, also has the disease.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the condition results when the immune system attacks the body's own cells rather than foreign invaders. The skin disorder appears as raised red patches with thick, silvery scales. [4 Common Skin Woes and How to Fix Them] About 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.  The disorder, which can range from a mild skin rash to a debilitating condition, can flare up for a few weeks or months, but also subsides for periods of time. 

Although psoriasis has been thought of as a skin condition, recent research has suggested that the inflammation associated with psoriasis may be present in other parts of the body, and may impact heart health. Experts think experiencing high levels of stress, taking certain medications, drinking alcohol or smoking can trigger a flare-up. The symptoms of psoriasis are treatable, but there is no cure for the condition. 

Michael J. Fox: Parkinson's Disease


(Image credit: Shutterstock)

TV and film star Michael J. Fox, known for starring in iconic movies such as "Back to the Future," was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991, when he was 30 years old.  Fox waited seven years before going public with his diagnosis. Although he admits to having bad days, he no longer looks at living with Parkinson's as a battle or a fight, he told Parade magazine in 2012. [3 Myths About Parkinson's Disease] Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that affects a person's ability to walk and move. It arises when the neurons in the brain that produce a chemical called dopamine, which helps to control body movements, begin to break down and die. Symptoms include shaking, problems with balance, difficulty swallowing, difficulty making facial expressions (a mask-like face), and muscle aches and pains.  The condition is more common in people over 50.  About 50,000 to 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck: Celiac Disease

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, photographed in 2010 in New York City.

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, photographed in 2010 in New York City. (Image credit: Elisabeth Hasselbeck photo via Shutterstock)

Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a former co-host of ABC's "The View," has had a decade-long struggle with celiac disease.  Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine, preventing the body from absorbing food properly. The damage is due to a body's overreaction to a protein called gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye.  More than 2 million people in the United States have the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.  The talk show host tolerated the painful digestive condition for years, the New York Daily News reported in 2009.  "No matter what I ate, I would soon be doubled over with cramps, awful indigestion, diarrhea — or all of the above simultaneously," Hasselbeck wrote in her book "The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide" (Center Street, 2009).  Hasselbeck realized she had celiac disease after her symptoms disappeared when she was enduring a severely restricted diet while filming "Survivor: The Australian Outback" in 2001.  She now follows a gluten-free diet, currently the only treatment for people with the disease.

Montel Williams: Multiple Sclerosis

Montel Williams, photographed in 2004 in Los Angeles

Montel Williams, photographed in 2004 in Los Angeles. (Image credit: Montel Williams photo via Shutterstock)

p> In 1999, daytime talk show host Montel Williams went public with his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.  "My primary symptom is pain," Williams told Oprah Winfrey on her talk show in 2009. "I've got pain from my shins to my feet, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it's been there for the last 10 years."  About 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  As with other autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the person's healthy tissue. It is not known exactly what triggers the condition. Williams lives with the disease by paying close attention to three things: his diet, exercise and medication, he said on "Oprah."

While there are no known ways to prevent MS, a 2016 meta-analysis found a link between coffee intake and a reduced risk of MS. The study showed an association, rather than proving cause and effect, but it's possible that caffeine may have a protective effect on the brain and spinal cord, according to the researchers. 

Bret Michaels: Heart Disease

Bret Michaels, photographed in Las Vegas in 2010.

Bret Michaels, photographed in Las Vegas in 2010. (Image credit: Bret Michaels photo via Shutterstock)

In 2010, Bret Michaels, a reality TV star and former lead singer of the band Poison, suffered a "mini stroke" caused by a hole in his heart, according to CNN. A mini stroke, known medically as a transient ischemic attack, is caused by a blood clot, according to the American Stroke Association. To repair the hole in Michaels' heart, doctors inserted a catheter into a vein in Michaels' groin, and guided a device up into his heart, where it will stay permanently to stop abnormal blood flow between the two chambers of the heart, CNN reported.  Without treatment, Michaels could have been at risk for developing blood clots and having another stroke.  Each year, about 795,000 Americans suffer from a stroke, according to the American Stroke Association. The difference between a stroke and a mini stroke is that a mini stroke's blockage of blood flow to the brain is temporary, and there is no permanent damage to the brain.

Jillian Michaels: Polycystic ovary syndrome

Jillian Michaels, photographed in Los Angeles in 2009

Jillian Michaels, photographed in Los Angeles in 2009. (Image credit: Jullian Michaels photo via Shutterstock)

In addition to having endometriosis, fitness guru Jillian Michaels suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Polycystic ovary syndrome, which occurs when a woman's female sex hormones are out of balance, can cause changes to the menstrual cycle and the skin, along with small cysts in the ovaries and trouble getting pregnant.  Michaels, a former trainer on the TV show "The Biggest Loser," announced that she had PCOS and endometriosis after being criticized for stating in an interview that she would rather adopt than put her body through the physical challenges of pregnancy.  Because of her conditions, she most likely couldn't get pregnant, The New York Times reported in 2011.  Michaels manages her symptoms by eating organic foods and exercising regularly, Prevention reported

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.