Padma Lakshmi, an author, model and Emmy-nominated host of Bravo's "Top Chef," suffered chronic pain every month for 23 years before she was finally diagnosed with endometriosis at age 36.
"I even had regular exams, and I had an ovarian cyst removed. They said everything would be better, but it didn't, and that was the tip of the iceberg," Lakshmi, now 41, said in an interview with HuffPost. "If I had been diagnosed at 20, or 25, the quality of my life would have been drastically different."
Endometriosis is actually quite common, affecting 8.5 million women in North America, though many are not diagnosed until their mid-20s, according to the Endometriosis Foundation of America, a non-profit organization Lakshmi co-founded with her doctor, Dr. Tamer Seckin, MD, to educate girls and young women about the condition. Just last month, the foundation held a conference to teach nurses about endometriosis, as they are often the first to see potential signs of the condition.
Undiagnosed and untreated, endometriosis causes abnormally painful cramping, bloating and nausea, and can even lead to infertility, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's often confused for ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease and irritable bowel syndrome. There is no cure for the condition, which occurs when the endometrium (the tissue that lines the inner part of the uterus) grows outside of the uterus, most commonly on the ovaries, bowel or the tissue that lines the pelvis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Depending on the pain, painkillers, hormone therapy, surgery and even hysterectomy are options for treating the condition.
Risk factors for the condition include having a shorter-than-normal menstrual cycle, having never given birth and having a family history (a mom, aunt or sisters) of the disease, the Mayo Clinic reported.
Lakshmi's in the family history camp. Her mother had undiagnosed endometriosis, and so when Lakshmi grew up experiencing the severe pain every month, she thought "it was just my lot in life."
"I used heating pads, stayed in bed, took ibuprofen, I was on very serious painkillers" because of the endometriosis, Lakshmi said. "I did breathing exercises, I did whatever I could." But still, Lakshmi spent many of her years planning meetings, events and family engagements around her monthly pain.
But finally after a correct diagnosis and many surgeries later, Lakshmi said about 75 to 80 percent of her pain is gone -- and the pain that is left is easily managed.
Instead of just living with it and accepting it, Lakshmi said she encourages other women to investigate their chronic pain to find the true root of the problem.
"If you have pain, talk to people around you. Don't just talk to your doctors, but talk to people you trust, and other women in your family," Lakshmi said.
"As women, we have the responsibility and an innate sense of when things are right and when things are wrong," she added. "You should always ask in your own best interest."