Lately, celebrities have been opening up about what it's really like to have endometriosis: from Lena Dunham to Halsey, it's getting easier and easier to talk about it. But one of the first stars to come forward was Julianne Hough, who first revealed her diagnosis in 2008. Since then, Hough has never shied away from the topic, but now she is speaking out even more proudly, as the spokeswoman for HealthyWoman.org's Get to Know The Me in Endometriosis campaign. And despite the increased visibility, there is still a lot she wants us to know about the condition. "For the longest time, I thought: this is the way my period is," she tells Glamour. "I didn't want to complain, so I'd just deal with it and ignore it." When Hough was 18, she moved in with a roommate who'd been diagnosed with the condition and described her symptoms, which sounded familiar. Hough found a doctor who eventually diagnosed her with endo.
Endometriosis doesn't have a cure, so women learn to deal with their symptoms with the help of their doctors. One of the toughest things for women who have endometriosis is the potential effect on their 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. Joy Brotherton, an associate professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Not all women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant, but those who have the disease should be aware and be proactive." Hough, who got engaged to NHL player Brooks Laich in 2015, is following Dr. Brotherton's advice. "We want to have a family—that’s definitely in my plan. I'm doing what I need to do for me," she says. That means taking care of herself, too: "It was pretty debilitating having to be active and dancing through the the sharp pains. Now, I’m able to handle myself better. Warm compresses help, so does getting cozy. I get cozy with my dog—I call her my heating pad!"
Hough says she also watches what she eats and works out (um, constantly if her Instagram is any indication). But maybe the most surprising thing that has helped her? Just talking about it. "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," says Dr. Brotherton. "I think the more people who know endometriosis exists, hopefully the faster women who are in pain can get diagnosed and treated."
"I realized how important it was for me to be open and bring awareness," Hough says. "I got a floodgate of comments and followers—people were coming together and supporting each other. I feel really great abut that—it gives me a reason to keep being open."
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For more information about endometriosis, visit healthywomen.org.