Julianne Hough remembers when she first told her now-husband, ice hockey player Brooks Laich, that she had endometriosis.
“My husband is the most sporty, Canadian, manly of men, and so he doesn’t know anything to do with women in that sense, so for me to tell him, he was like, ‘Wait, what?'” Hough says in the November issue of Health (on newsstands now). Today, though, “he’s so open about it.”
The actress and dancer, 29, was first diagnosed with endometriosis in 2008, but only recently spoke out about her health struggle. Earlier this year, Hough told Health that she originally thought the “really, really sharp” pelvic pain she experienced around her period was just bad PMS. “I started having symptoms when I was 15, but didn’t really realize that it was anything more than just being a woman,” she said.
Endometriosis develops when the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of it. (“It can look like a spiderweb,” Hough explains.) The result are symptoms like pelvic pain, nausea, fatigue, and excessive bleeding during periods, which can be debilitating.
“For me it’s an immediate sharp pain, like a stabbing sensation,” she says. “It hurts so bad. It’s ongoing.”
Hough’s mother and two of her sisters also have endometriosis, so Laich was quickly brought up to speed on the condition. “To be in my family, you have to know that the word ‘vagina’ is gonna be out there all the time,” Hough laughs. “That’s how we end all of our conversations—something about vaginas.”
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The actress recently teamed up with the national campaign Get in the Know About ME in EndoMEtriosis to help raise awareness about the disease, which is thought to affect as many as 6.5 women in the United States. Despite its prevalence though, there’s a lot of confusion about endometriosis, which is one reason Hough was motivated to speak out about her own experience.
“It’s OK to talk about these kinds of things,” she says. “In the past, it was kind of a hush-hush thing, but it’s a way of life.”