Julianne Hough first revealed her struggle with endometriosis (a condition that affects Lena Dunham and Jillian Michaels) in 2008, telling People magazine "she was really scared" by her diagnosis. Now she's empowering women who share her affliction as a spokeswoman for the Get in the Know About ME in EndoMEtriosis campaign. "It felt like a knife was being stabbed in me," Hough told Glamour about her symptoms. "For the longest time, I thought: this is the way my period is," she said. "I didn't want to complain, so I'd just deal with it and ignore it." For many women, understanding their severe menstrual pain is abnormal takes years. Hough gained insight into her condition when at 18 she moved in with a roommate who'd been diagnosed.
Endometriosis is an overgrowth of uterine tissue outside of the uterus causing painful, sometimes debilitating, cramping. It affects one in 10 women of reproductive age. But many suffering with endo are undiagnosed. "Being educated and understanding what I have makes me feel powerful. Not understanding it, ignoring it and saying I was fine put me in a weaker position."
Doctors say writing off the condition like this is common with women who suffer from endo: "The biggest misconception women have about endometriosis is that the symptoms, such as chronic pelvic pain during or between periods or pain during intercourse are 'normal' or just 'part of being a woman,'" Dr. Joy Brotherton, an associate professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA told Glamour. "I think the more people who know endometriosis exists, hopefully the faster women who are in pain can get diagnosed and treated."One reason it's important to find out if you have endo is that it can affect fertility. "It is so important for women to find a doctor that they trust who they can speak to about their symptoms and develop a reproductive life plan, which is a fancy way of saying 'come up with a timeline for having a baby,'" explains Dr. Brotherton. "Not all women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant, but those who have the disease should be aware and be proactive." Hough, who is engaged to NHL player Brooks Laich, has taken her health into her hands proactively. "We want to have a family—that's definitely in my plan. I'm doing what I need to do for me."
Now Hough prioritizes self-care. "It was pretty debilitating having to be active and dancing through the sharp pains. Now, I'm able to handle myself better." What helps her cope with the pain? "Warm compresses help, so does getting cozy. I get cozy with my dog—I call her my heating pad!" Hough hopes that in speaking out, she'll help more women. "I realized how important it was for me to be open and bring awareness."