It happened like clockwork, every month, for decades. The pain would leave Padma Lakshmi ‘balled up in bed’ for days at a time. There were cramps, bloating, nausea and shock-like sensations running along the length of her legs.
And once the agony had abated, she suffered crushing fatigue and mood swings that affected every area of her life.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a female health disorder that occurs when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body. This can lead to pain, irregular bleeding, and problems getting pregnant (infertility).
Every month, a woman’s ovaries produce hormones that tell the cells lining the uterus (womb) to swell and get thicker. The body removes these extra cells from the womb lining (endometrium) when you get your period.
If these cells (called endometrial cells) implant and grow outside the uterus, endometriosis results. The growths are called endometrial tissue implants. Women with endometriosis typically have tissue implants on the ovaries, bowel, rectum, bladder, and on the lining of the pelvic area. They can occur in other areas of the body, too.
Unlike the endometrial cells found in the uterus, the tissue implants outside the uterus stay in place when you get your period. They sometimes bleed a little bit. They grow again when you get your next period. This ongoing process leads to pain and other symptoms of endometriosis.
Why does this happen?
The most commonly accepted theory suggests that during menstruation, pockets of endometrium travel up the fallopian tubes into the pelvis and are deposited, rather than passing out of the body. These deposits are affected by the female hormones around the time of menstruation. Endometriosis can also cause what are known as adhesions, which stick organs such as the bowel to the womb, further adding to pain.
Who does it affect and why?
Endometriosis occurs in women of reproductive age, and is more common in those with a relative who suffers. It is an oestrogen-driven condition so is more common in women who have had a longer exposure to the hormone – for example, starting periods at a young age makes endometriosis more likely.
So it’s not just bad period pains, then?
The condition is characterised by pelvic pain. Specifically, women get severe prolonged period pain starting in their late 20s. Other typical pain for the condition occurs during intercourse, at the time of ovulation or before a period affecting the lower abdomen.
The second important sign of endometriosis is infertility, and often it is when trying to conceive that a woman is first diagnosed. Other less common signs are pain associated with bowel and bladder movements, irregular bleeding and fatigue.
Why are so few women diagnosed?
If a woman’s period pains are relatively mild, neither she nor the doctor would be looking further for a cause. Diagnosis can only be made during a surgical procedure called laparoscopy: a camera is inserted through a small incision into the abdomen so the errant tissue can be seen. Obviously this is not risk-free, so is only suggested when symptoms are severe.
Can endometriosis be cured?
Sadly, no. But the condition can be prevented from interfering with life with the help of painkillers or hormonal treatments. Surgery can sometimes be used to improve symptoms and fertility.
Padma Lakshmi’s battle with endometriosis…
Despite these debilitating symptoms, the model-turned-TV-chef came to believe it was just part of life, as doctors dismissed her ‘women’s problems’.
Embarrassed that people would think she was exaggerating, she admitted: ‘I thought I was just being a wimp.’
The 42-year-old, once married to celebrated author Salman Rushdie, says today: ‘I was told that some women get menstrual cramps badly and some don’t and it was normal for me because my mother had them. I saw her suffer the way I came to suffer.’
Padma’s ordeal began when she reached adolescence and she needed hospital treatment on more than one occasion. But it wasn’t until the age of 36, following a visit to accident and emergency with heavy bleeding outside of her normal cycle, that she was finally given a diagnosis: endometriosis.
The condition, in which cells that normally line the womb grow outside it (usually in the abdomen), is thought to affect two million British women. Padma’s case was so advanced by the time it was spotted that specialists told her she would be unlikely ever to have children – even with the help of IVF.
So it was a shock, to say the least, when she discovered that she was pregnant after a brief relationship with Adam Dell, brother of computer firm founder Michael, in 2010. Even her doctor described the conception as ‘nothing short of a medical miracle’.
Her victory over endometriosis…
Today, Padma is a fiercely proud and protective mother to Krishna, who celebrates her third birthday next week.
‘It ended up happening accidentally,’ she says, hoping her story will inspire others facing infertility caused by endometriosis. ‘I’d spent most of my life trying not to get pregnant and it was only after stopping taking birth control – because I was told that I couldn’t conceive – that it happened at all.’
Teasingly, Padma says she would like more children, although she admits her age and history make it unlikely.
‘I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but I never knew it would be so much fun and I’d enjoy it so immensely. My daughter is such great company. I would love to have another child or two.’
It is thought up to ten per cent of women suffer some form of endometriosis!
Like Padma, many are simply told they have severe menstrual cramps. She says: ‘Ever since my teens, I was bedridden for two or three days each month and had to take prescription painkillers. I missed school, I missed work, I missed family functions.’
‘If I had been diagnosed at 15, 20, or even 30, my life would have been different. That would have been four or five days every month that I wouldn’t have been incapacitated, that I wouldn’t have been tired, that I wouldn’t have been nauseous and cranky.’
Padma co-founda The Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA)
Padma, who co-founded The Endometriosis Foundation of America (EFA) to encourage women to look out for the symptoms of the illness, continues: ‘I was galvanised by what I went through. Chronic pain is a terrible thing. It impedes your ability to make rational decisions. It alters your ability to handle other stresses in life.’
‘Endometriosis affects every aspect of a woman’s life. It is woven into the very fabric of her life and it develops as her womanhood develops through her adolescence and early years. It becomes part and parcel of a woman’s opinion of her own body, of her femininity, the relationship she has with herself and her sexuality. It affects her intimate relationships, her platonic relationships and her business relationships.’
Padma had surgery in 2001 to remove two ovarian cysts and was rushed to hospital when she was 34, suffering pain and bleeding that she now knows was endometriosis-related. But at the time the condition still wasn’t diagnosed.
‘I tried everything to help, from teas to evening primrose oil, from over-the-counter pain medication to acupuncture. The pain was debilitating, but more than that it was incredibly frustrating that no one was able to tell me what was wrong,’ she adds.
‘It never feels good to have someone tell you that you’re crazy, or you’re making things up. It hurt me physically but also emotionally to live with this pain. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just take an over-the-counter painkiller and feel better like everyone else.’
- Endometriosis: Hollywood Mom Tia Mowry’s Story (kolorblindmag.com)
- Endometriosis Affects Millions of Women (drlauraberman.com)
- Endometriosis and Endometrial Cancer (everydayhealth.com)
- Tia and Tamera Mowry Launch New Website – and Talk Motherhood! (celebritybabies.people.com)
- Why Sex Hurts With Endometriosis (everydayhealth.com)
- Women’s Excellence in Endometriosis Near Rochester, MI is Now Offering Medical Management of Endometriosis with Zoladex; Significant Reduction in Pelvic Pain Reported (prweb.com)
- Endometriosis, the Proverbial Pain in My Side (mountainairess.wordpress.com)