Photo: Jet Li/Wei bo and Instagram 

Fans of veteran action star Jet Li were sent into a frenzy after a photo of him looking far more advanced than his 55 years surfaced. The photo showed Jet, who became a Singapore citizen in 2009, with an unidentified man by his side while visiting a temple in Tibet.


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From classic martial arts hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s up to modern-day franchises like The Expendables, Jet is one of the most well-known faces in the cinematic martial arts scene. Compared to how we know and remember him as a cinematic icon, the photo and his frail appearance made him almost unrecognisable and sparked speculation that the Beijing-born martial artist is in poor health.


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In recent years, the actor battled hyperthyroidism. This condition has previously ignited rumours of Jet Li’s failing health. Eight years ago, Jet Li was diagnosed with the condition and was advised against exercising by his doctor. This is the same condition that plagued local actress Vanessa Vanderstraaten in 2016.

The excess thyroid hormones sped up Vanessa’s metabolic functions and caused symptoms like heart palpitations, sweating and weight loss. As part of her treatment plan, she not only underwent medication for a year, but also go for regular blood tests every other month to check her thyroid hormone levels.

Even though Jet Li assured his fans and the media that reports of his health were greatly exaggerated in a 2016 interview with The Straits Times, it has been reported by the South China Morning Post (in 2017) that his condition “kept coming back” despite being on medication to keep his overactive thyroid in check.


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Jet Li is expected to appear as the emperor of China in Disney’s upcoming live-action version of Mulan, alongside Chinese star Gong Li.

Many of the symptoms of Jet Li’s condition are similar to those of ageing, hence diagnosis can be tricky.


So, what exactly is hyperthyroidism?

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Hyperthyroidism refers to the overactivity of the thyroid gland. Patients with this condition produces too much thyroid hormone and this in turn “speeds up” many of the bodily function. One of the most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease.

The proteins (antibodies) produced by our own white blood cells over stimulates the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common thyroid disorders in women aged between 20 and 50, who are five times more likely than men to develop thyroid conditions.


Symptoms of hyperthyroidism

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As thyroid hormones are involved in regulating just about every bodily function, including heart rate, circulation, body temperature and fluid balance, some symptoms and physical signs of hyperthyroidism include anxiety, nervousness, trembling hands, weight loss, constantly feeling warm, frequent bowel movements and a fast heart rate. In women, menstrual periods may also become irregular. Some who are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism may also have bulging eyes.


What happens when you are down with hyperthyroidism?

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This condition may lead to other complications. Hyperthyroidism can  worsen heart conditions like angina, affect the body’s absorption of calcium in the bones, cause protrusion of the eyes as well as sensitivity to light and blurring or double vision, and lead to fever, rapid pulse and delirium.


How is Hyperthyroidism diagnosed?

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A blood test would be performed and your T4 and TSH levels will be measured. In hyperthyroidism, the T4 level would be high while the TSH level would be very low.  


How is Hyperthyroidism treated?

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Typically, anti-thyroid drugs are prescribed to prevent the thyroid gland from producing too much hormones. Even though symptoms may improve in six to eight weeks, treatment usually needs to be continued for another 18 months (at least).

Another form of treatment is radioactive iodine therapy where a dose of radioactive iodine is taken by mouth. The radiation targets the thyroid gland and destroys part of it to reduce the production of thyroxine in the body.

Like with any illness, prevention is better than cure. Do go for health checks regularly and make sure you are covered with insurance.

The above medical information is from the Singhealth and Ministry of Health website.