Unlike many celebrities who, understandably, want to keep their health issues private, Top Chef host and model Padma Lakshmi has been refreshingly open about a very personal condition she has coped with for years: endometriosis — a painful disease in which the uterine lining (endometrium) grows outside the uterus, often around the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining the pelvis, according to the Mayo Clinic. This not only causes debilitating pain in some cases but can also lead to scarring and fertility issues.
When Lakshmi was a young girl, her mom, who is a nurse, started talking to her about menstruation. She explained that some girls and women have menstrual cramps and some don’t. “‘It’s just our lot in life,’” the 48-year-old recalls her mom saying. “So I saw my mother every month having really bad cramps, having to stay home from work.”
She adds: “I think my mother suffered from endometriosis but was never diagnosed.”
Like her mother, Lakshmi’s periods were also debilitating. “My whole pelvis would just ache,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Like a really deep ache in the bones of my hip. Some of the symptoms I experienced during my period were lower back pain, digestive issues, severe cramps, migraines, nausea. One week of every month I was bedridden.”
But because Lakshmi had grown up witnessing her mother living in pain every month, she says she was “conditioned” to “think it was normal.”
It wasn’t until Lakshmi, who had undergone two surgeries related to the disease, was 36 years old that she received a proper diagnosis. “I never heard the word endometriosis until I was in my mid-30s,” she says. “The moment I was diagnosed I was actually relieved.”
Although there isn’t a cure for endometriosis, Lakshmi notes that there are good treatment options that can help, from pain medication to hormone therapy and, in some cases, surgery. “Once I got the treatment, for the first time my life was completely different,” she says. “And that’s when I really started to do something about it.”
Rather than keeping her diagnosis to herself, Lakshmi decided to help others and raise awareness by sharing her story. “It was never my intention to speak to rooms full of people about my vagina,” she says. “But I don’t want the next generation of women and girls to go through what I did.”
She got involved with the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which helps fund research on endometriosis. “And it also trains young doctors and surgeons to understand the disease and be able to spot it earlier in patients who present with the symptoms,” says Lakshmi, who is mom to a 9-year-old daughter and has authored several books, including Love, Loss, and What We Ate.
Knowing that there are likely millions of girls who “suffer in silence” like Lakshmi did is what motivates her to keep speaking about such a personal topic. “I think endometriosis is a very isolating and lonely disease,” she says. “We need to change the way our culture handles periods and anything around a woman’s reproductive health and just take away the taboo.”
If a menstruating girl or woman is in pain, Lakshmi encourages her to take charge of her health and find the right health care provider to help her. “You are the commander of your life,” she says. “And if something is not right, try to resolve it, because no one will care about your well-being more than you do.”
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