7 celebrity health scares that grabbed headlines in 2022

By Joe Hannan | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published December 16, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • From stiff person syndrome to Ramsay Hunt syndrome to alopecia areata—celebrity health scares unleashed a flurry of medical Googling in 2022.

  • While many of these stories made tabloid headlines, they also raised the baseline level of public health awareness regarding these diseases.

  • Clinicians can review these celebrity health scares to better understand the disease burden that patients may carry.

Sometimes it takes a celebrity to raise awareness about a rare or severe health issue.

2022 was no exception. Over the course of the year, many Americans heard about conditions such as stiff person syndrome, vasculitis, or aphasia for the first time.

Perhaps the celebrities who endured these maladies may help raise the public’s baseline health knowledge and awareness.

Celine Dion

In December 2022, singer Celine Dion went on Instagram to announce that she has stiff person syndrome (SPS). Affecting about one in 1,000,000 people, this rare neurological disorder is characterized by progressive muscle stiffness and muscle spasms that can be painful, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).[]

People with SPS can experience fluctuating levels of muscle stiffness that are triggered by events such as physical contact or noise.

The precise cause of SPS remains a medical mystery. Some evidence suggests that it could be an autoimmune disorder. Many people with SPS also possess antibodies for glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), which is involved in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) synthesis.

GABA is essential for moving muscles and neural signaling. One possibility is that SPS may stem from the immune system attacking GAD-producing neurons, leading to GABA deficiency, according to NORD.

Al Roker

Missing from the 2022 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade was America’s stalwart weatherman, Al Roker. The Today show mainstay had been waylaid by an all-too-common ailment: a blood clot. Roker’s venous thromboembolism started in his leg and led to some pulmonary embolisms. While Roker is home from the hospital, he has yet to return to broadcasting on Today.

Roker’s situation is familiar to an estimated 900,000 Americans who have blood clots each year, according to the CDC.[]

Approximately three out of every 10 of these people will go on to have another clot within a decade. Tragically, venous thromboembolisms, including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, claims about 100,000 American lives each year.

Roker’s story brings to mind the loss of another Today show journalist: David Bloom, who suffered a pulmonary embolism while covering the War in Iraq in 2003.

Ashton Kutcher

In August 2022, actor Ashton Kutcher revealed on Twitter that 3 years prior, he received a diagnosis of vasculitis, which affected his vision, hearing, and vestibular system. He says his condition has since improved, although his announcement no doubt unleashed a flurry of Google searches.

An autoimmune disease, vasculitis includes more than 30 pathologies, all of which share inflammation of the blood vessels in common, according to research published by StatPearls.[]

Vasculitis can occur on its own, or it can stem from other diseases.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes vasculitis, and there is no cure, but a broad array of risk factors includes genetics, environment, geography, age, and ethnicity.

Justin Bieber

In June 2022, pop singer Justin Bieber took to Instagram to announce that he had Ramsay Hunt syndrome. In the video, Bieber showed signs of unilateral facial paralysis and said he would be canceling some tour dates to focus on his recovery.

Bieber, 28, is somewhat of an outlier as a Ramsay Hunt patient. While Ramsay Hunt can affect people as young as 3 months or as old as 82 years, it typically occurs in people in their 70s or 80s, according to StatPearls research.[]

The syndrome is a complication stemming from infection by the varicella-zoster virus, which leads to inflammation of the geniculate ganglion cranial nerve VII. In addition to facial paralysis, Ramsay Hunt symptoms include otalgia and the formation of vesicles near the auditory canal and ear.

The syndrome is self-limiting, with treatment aimed at shortening duration, avoiding complications, and pain relief.

Bruce Willis

Actor Bruce Willis’ aphasia diagnosis took many by surprise in 2022. His ex-wife Demi Moore made the announcement in March 2022 on Instagram, saying that Willis would sunset his acting career, as the disease was affecting his cognitive abilities.

Aphasia arises from damage to areas in the brain specific to language capacity, such as the Broca and Wernicke areas, according to StatPearls research.[] The condition can stem from disease, neurodegenerative issues, brain masses, traumatic brain injury, or a cerebrovascular accident.

Some patients with aphasia may experience difficulty with verbal expression, others with comprehension, and some with both.

It’s estimated that each year, there are about 180,000 new aphasia cases, with an estimated one in 272 Americans having the disorder.

Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett Smith has shed a spotlight on alopecia areata, a condition that has caused her to lose her hair. Her struggle with the autoimmune disorder made headlines when her husband, actor Will Smith, slapped comedian Chris Rock over a joke he told at the 2022 Academy Awards. The joke made light of Pinkett Smith’s condition.

For the estimated 6.8 million people in the US who have alopecia areata, the autoimmune disorder is no laughing matter. According to the National Alopecia Areata Association, Alopecia areata causes hair to fall out in coin-sized patches on the scalp or other parts of the body.[]

Alopecia totalis leads to complete loss of hair on the scalp, and alopecia universalis is the loss of all body hair in all locations.

There is no cure for alopecia areata and the majority of treatments are prescribed off-label. But in June 2022, the FDA approved baricitinib (Olumiant), the first systemic therapy for adults with severe alopecia areata.


The singer Halsey faced not just one health struggle in 2022, but several. In May 2022, they published a series of Instagram stories documenting their health struggles, which include Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Sjögren’s syndrome, mast cell activation syndrome, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome typically features joint hypermobility, stemming from issues with connective tissue. People with the Ehlers Danlos syndrome may also have highly elastic skin.

Sjögren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that leads to dry eye, dry mouth, and possibly fatigue, joint pain, and muscle pain. Mast cell activation syndrome leads to repeat allergy symptoms that are often severe and spread across body systems.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is part of a group of disorders involving orthostatic intolerance. When a person with orthostatic intolerance stands up after lying down, an insufficient amount of blood makes its way back to the heart, leading to fainting or lightheadedness.

That’s a lot to contend with. MDLinx wishes Halsey, and all of these celebrities, a healthier 2023.

A chance to educate patients

The suffering of these celebrities, and of any individuals, is unfortunate. But perhaps a silver lining to these stories is that they may help raise awareness of these conditions and prompt the celebrities’ fans to learn more about these disorders.

Beyond internet research, the questions raised by these stories may prompt people to seek help and consultation from clinicians if they have concerns about their own health, opening up a dialogue with their doctors to learn more about these conditions and others that may be affecting them.

What this means for you

While celebrities help shine a spotlight on the disease burden that people with rare conditions face, many patients lack platforms to raise awareness. Clinicians can look to these celebrity stories to gain a sense of what patients may contend with. A potential benefit of the heightened public awareness stemming from these stories is the opportunity to discuss these conditions with your patients.

Read Next: How ‘the slap’ is leading to alopecia awareness
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