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Olivia Culpo has never really had a normal period. And yes, she talks openly about periods and everything that goes along with them, because people sharing their experiences was her key to finally getting diagnosed with endometriosis.
Through her frustrating journey to figure out what was causing her extremely painful periods, the model, social media influencer, and former Miss Rhode Island eventually became an expert on endometriosis, a condition in which tissue similar to the uterine lining, or endometrium, grows outside of the uterus.
It can take an average of eight to 10 years to receive a proper diagnosis, she said. And it may look different in every body, because the tissue can grow anywhere — your liver, ovaries, rectum, appendix, colon, and more. The result is debilitating pain and sometimes infertility.
Dozens of doctors told Culpo she was fine, suggesting over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil, or questioning how bad her pain really was, regardless of the fact that she was in absolute agony. The pain only got worse over time — at first happening only during her period, then in between cycles, and eventually constantly. Finding ways to manage her pain and still live her life while she fought for answers was not easy.
“I lived in the bath. I would do all of my work in the bath,” she said. Her pain was mostly in her lower back, and applying heat was one of the few things that helped.
Adding some Epsom salts (a source of magnesium) to baths can make them even more effective when it comes to easing swelling, stiffness, and pain, and even reducing stress.
You can buy Ancient Minerals Magnesium Bath Flakes from Enviromedica for around $11.
When she couldn’t be in the bath, she applied targeted heat to her lower back. Hot water bottles worked better for her than electric heating pads, particularly this super soft one from Naked Cashmere that she traveled everywhere with.
You can buy the Love Cashmere Hot Water Bottle from Naked Cashmere for around $125.
Aside from heat, lower back massages could also temporarily ease her pain, as did these Highline Wellness CBD Gummies.
You can buy Anytime CBD Gummies from Highline Wellness for around $42. (There is limited scientific evidence for the effectiveness of CBD for pain relief. We suggest consulting your doctor and following dosage guidelines.)
Bananas were helpful for the cramping, as was generally managing her diet to limit sugar and caffeine (although she did rely on chocolate for a dopamine release). Midol, a menstrual period classic, was another saving grace.
You can buy Midol from Amazon for around $7.
Despite the years of debilitating pain, Culpo said she never would have gotten the help she needed if she had not found a support system.
“It was from looking online, just like sobbing in the bath, looking on Reddit and YouTube and following other people’s journeys that I was finally like, ‘Oh, these are my symptoms. This is what this person had. This is what they did,’” she said.
She found a strong endometriosis community called Endo Warriors. “Everybody really supports one another on a ton of different forums, from Reddit, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok. I would encourage anybody out there to use those resources, not only to get answers, but also to feel like they’re not alone.”
This online community is what made her realize that although her doctors were doing their best, they didn’t know everything, and specifically didn’t know enough about endometriosis. Armed with new information and confidence about what was causing her pain, she finally found a specialist who would treat her.
“No doctor told me that I [had endometriosis]. I had to go in there and be like, This is what I have, I know that this is what I have, please help me,” she said. “It was that doctor that found the endometrioma, and then it was another doctor who also specialized in endometriosis who did my surgery.”
Endometriomas are cysts that can be seen on an ultrasound. If those can’t be visualized during a scan, surgery followed by a biopsy of the abnormal tissue is needed for a solid diagnosis. Not all doctors are able to or want to do this surgery, which is one reason why it can take so long to be diagnosed. The ones who do specialize know exactly what it is when they see it and are often able to scrape out the endometrioma during surgery; this is what happened for Culpo.
Her life changed after the surgery. Culpo had the Mirena IUD inserted, essentially halting her menstrual bleeding to suppress future flare-ups; her symptoms evaporated.
“It’s scary when you feel like you're in so much pain and nothing helps, and it's even scarier when you feel like nobody believes you or has the answer,” she said. It took years of advocating for herself to find the answer and the solution, but she hopes her story can help others avoid that prolonged, painful experience. So she’s not going to stop talking about periods, even if it makes you uncomfortable.