The menstruation disease endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide and happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus moves outside the womb, resulting in inflammation and pain. There’s no known cause of or cure for endometriosis.

Delayed diagnosis

“Listen to your body. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.”

Lakshmi, now 47, was 13 when she first got her period. She developed painful cramps. “Those cramps escalated more and more as the months and years wore on,” says Lakshmi, who also experienced headaches, nausea and backpain.

Her doctor brushed off her concerns. “I just accepted that it was my lot in life because that’s what the grownups told me,” says Lakshmi, who didn’t get diagnosed with endometriosis until she was in her mid-30s and underwent emergency surgery to remove cysts. “I was so relieved to find an explanation for it,” she says. “There were times I just felt like it was all in my head or that I had a really low threshold for pain.”

Becoming an advocate

In 2009, Lakshmi co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America with world-renowned advanced gynecological surgeon Tamer Seckin, M.D. “One of the reasons we started the foundation was to break the taboo,” she says, explaining women don’t want to talk about their periods, especially at a young age, when they feel vulnerable.

Lakshmi urges, “Listen to your body. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.” The nonprofit, which is raising awareness about endometriosis, has educated 29,800 high school students about the disease.

Taking charge

Lakshmi says many women with endometriosis have excruciating chronic pain, depression and anxiety. “I think it affects every aspect of your life,” she says, noting the disease can distort a woman’s body image, love life and intimacy.

But she also encourages women not to give up. The TV star wants women to take charge of their bodies, including reproductive health. Lakshmi, mother to eight-year-old Krishna, recommends freezing eggs. “If you can afford it, freeze your eggs before your 30s,” she says. “That gives you options and gives you control over your own destiny.”