Julianne Hough On Treating Her Endometriosis — And Why Women Should Never Downplay Pain
One of the common narratives in the women’s health conversation is about women downplaying their pain — either to a doctor or to themselves. That’s something dancer and actor Julianne Hough is intimately familiar with. Hough has endometriosis, a painful disorder in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus instead of solely within it.
“My first experience even hearing the word ‘endometriosis’ was from my roommate when I first moved to Los Angeles when I was 18,” Hough, who is a spokesperson for SpeakEndo, an organization that raises awareness about endometriosis and endometriosis symptoms, tells InStyle. “She had endometriosis and she was starting to tell me some of the symptoms that she had, and I said, “Well, wow, that kind of sounds like me. But you know what? That sounds way too medical. I don’t have time for that.”
At that point, Hough was three years into experiencing what she would later find out was endometriosis. (She says that at 15 she “just thought that [pain] was what being a woman was.”) She continues, “Cut to a couple years later. I think I was 20 years old. I was on Dancing with the Stars as a dancer back then, and I was dancing and I just had the worst pain ever. I basically was live on television, waited until a commercial break, fell over, doubled over in pain, and fortunately my mother was there to say, "You know what, we’ve got to get this checked.” They went to the ER and a doctor there suggested she speak to her gynecologist, who ended up being the one to diagnose her. “I think a lot of women feel like they’re not being heard or understood, so I was really lucky in that case,” she says.
It’s estimated that one in 10 women of reproductive have endometriosis, but the process of getting diagnosed can be very slow. The cause of the disorder is not known, and women’s symptoms are often dismissed as being a painful period or thought to be linked to something else, like ovarian cysts. That’s why Hough has devoted herself to spreading the word. “I get direct messages on my social media from people that are constantly just like, ‘Wow, after I heard about you having endometriosis, I felt a similar way and I went and spoke to my doctor about it and I was diagnosed,’ or ‘I have a friend and I was able to tell her about it,’” Hough says.
Hough has had two laparoscopic surgeries to treat her endometriosis, which she has posted about on social media. She also has “a lot of holistic home remedies that I do for myself.” These include staying away from anything containing estrogen and avoiding eating food that could increase inflammation. (According to SpeakEndo, the natural estrogen fluctuation during the menstrual cycle may lead to increased pain. For more information on estrogen and inflammation as they relate to endometriosis, consult your doctor.) Hough adds, “I’m a big energy believer and so moving my body instead of having it stagnant. Even when I’m in pain, I just try to move my hips and that area to get the circulation flowing and the energy flowing.”
If you take a look at Hough’s Instagram, that belief is clear. The 30-year-old is constantly posting about “engag[ing] with your inner energy” and “staying connected." There are posts about self-care, meditation, journaling, and moving her body through dance. As for whether these posts are inspired by her diagnosis, she says, “endometriosis is part of my story.”
“I’m at that age where I want to take care of my body, I want to take care of my mind, and I want to enhance and elevate my soul,” Hough explains. “So, I think anything I can do to maybe give myself some self-care and some self-love, it will hopefully, I don’t know, just give me some extra charge. And then, by sharing it on my social media, I really want women to know that we can give that to ourselves and that we don’t necessarily need that from someone else.”
Hough isn’t the only celebrity who has spoken out about having endometriosis. Women including Halsey, Lena Dunham, and Padma Lakshmi have shared their experiences, from giving a speech about the disorder, to writing about having a hysterectomy, to starting an entire foundation, respectively.
The condition is still misunderstood and the cause of it is still not known, but, fortunately, women are speaking out about it more and more.
“I just think we’re in the age of women right now,” Hough says. “We’re not only kind of stepping out into the light that we have had, but we’re owning it and the fear is going away because we have such a support system, because women are supporting women in a completely different manner. Also, because we’re educated.” And, as shown by Hough’s experience, a major way women are finding out that they may have endometriosis is from other women. “We’re in a really special time of life where things that used to be taboo to talk about, there’s no taboo now. It’s life, it’s what’s happening, and we have a voice. And I think, for me, I feel like I have a responsibility to continue giving that voice and that power to other women.”