Periods, for all their science-y, interesting, nature’s miracle parts, are generally not fun to have. If you’re one of 1:10 people with a uterus living with endometriosis, they can be utterly excruciating — with symptoms (including extremely painful menstrual cramps, chronic pain in the back and pelvis, pain during intercourse, intestinal pain, bowel movement pain and potential fertility issues) strong enough to fully make it difficult to go about your life.
And when you read about what endometriosis actually is, the pain makes a lot of sense: It’s a condition when uterine-like tissue grows in places it doesn’t belong — meaning there’s thickening, bleeding, breaking-down material in places that aren’t the uterus (think the fallopian tubes, the tissue lining your pelvis or, rarely, making it outside the pelvic organs). This tissue mix-up leads to the incredibly painful experience of that tissue breaking down with your cycle but not having a means of expelling it (can’t go out through the cervix like other menses) — so it gets trapped and can irritate the surrounding area (leading to scarring and additional issues with pelvic organs and tissue — including them getting stuck together). Yet, because the “periods are supposed to be god awful, deal with it” narratives are so pervasive and there’s still a relentless stigma around talking about your period in a meaningful way, endo cases can often go undiagnosed (11 percent of them!).
That’s why it’s great to have high profile individuals willing to open up about this private and misunderstood health condition — including Olivia Culpo, who took to her Instagram stories on Wednesday to talk about her endo experience and to encourage her followers to talk to their doctors if they are noticing anything up with their period pain.
“If you are having very painful periods and you are not being diagnosed with what you think could be endometriosis, definitely do your research because if you don’t discover that you have this, it could get in the way of your fertility,” Culpo said in her stories. “You could have tissue growing in areas that you really shouldn’t have that would interfere with maybe getting pregnant some day, your eggs could be getting damaged.”
As SheKnows has previously reported, because endometriosis can cause scar tissue on the fallopian tubes, it can cause issues with conception (particularly implantation issues that can lead to miscarriages. “Sometimes the only symptom is infertility,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Stone, OB/GYN at Maven Digital Clinic told SheKnows. “There’s no pain, or regular period cramps and then you try to get pregnant.”
“The reason why I’m so passionate about talking about this is because my doctor tells me about people who come to her in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s about not having been able to have kids,”Culpo added. “The thing that’s so sad about that is because they may have had endometriosis that may have affected their fertility in some way and if they had caught it earlier, they could have frozen their eggs. There would have been more options.”
She urged her audience to “take it seriously” and to advocate for themselves with their doctors to better understand and preserve their fertility options (if that’s something that’s important to them).
Before you go, check out our round-up of all the period product options menstruators have to choose from in 2020: