Menstruation is a regular occurrence for half of the world’s population, so why are period problems rarely discussed out in the open?
Like many conditions that fall under the umbrella of “women’s” health, period issues are historically under-researched and under-diagnosed. Due to cultural stigmas, they’re often considered embarrassing or inappropriate to disclose. But we need to be talking about this. Painful or irregular periods can get in the way of a person’s ability to function normally — and that’s a huge problem since people with uteruses typically get their period every month until perimenopause.
Some common period issues, like cramps, are easily treated with at-home remedies or over-the-counter pain relievers. But severe pain or emotional distress during your period may signal a more serious medical issue.
One such condition is endometriosis, a reproductive health disorder in which tissue similar to that of the uterine lining grows outside of a person’s uterus. According to Mayo Clinic, this incurable condition can result in a range of uncomfortable and potentially debilitating symptoms — including, you guessed it, excruciatingly painful periods.
Endometriosis, or endo, affects an estimated 11 percent of American women ages 15–44. However, many people who have this condition suffer silently or struggle to get an accurate diagnosis. Too often, their period pain is written off as “just part of being a woman.”
And then there’s premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), another period-related condition. Johns Hopkins Medicine characterizes PMDD as a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. People with PMDD typically experience a mix of distressing psychological symptoms — such as anxiety, depression, irritability, severe fatigue, or suicidal thoughts. These physiological issues often take place during the week before and a few days after their period begins. They, too, often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Again, endo and PMDD are just two examples of period problems. It’s important to normalize conversations about periods so that nobody has to suffer in silence.
The stigmas surrounding period talk are still alive and well, but in recent years, they’ve begun to erode. Notably, celebrities like Lena Dunham, Halsey, and Dakota Johnson have used their platforms to speak openly about their period problems. Their candid comments are inspiring others to seek help if they struggle with painful, irregular, or otherwise disconcerting periods.
Read on to learn more about nine celebrities who’ve opened up about their period problems.
Halsey also has endometriosis, and they’ve used their platform to spread awareness about the condition since the beginning of their career. In 2017, the singer-songwriter got real about undergoing “multiple terrifying surgeries” to alleviate their pain.
“For those of you who have followed this battle of mine or who may suffer with it yourself, you know the extremes to which it can be mentally exhausting and physically painful,” they wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post, per PEOPLE.
The following year, Halsey was honored by the Endometriosis Foundation of America for their advocacy.
“A lot of people are taught to believe [period] pain is normal,” they said onstage while accepting their award. “If you think something is wrong, it probably is. You need to go and demand that someone takes you seriously. Your health is all you have, and especially as a young woman who has reproductive pain, you need to take care of yourself.”
And advocate for their wellbeing, they have. As recently as 2022, Halsey went to the hospital to address their severe endo symptoms, a journey they also posted about on Instagram Stories.
In 2019, Dakota Johnson spoke out about how her “traumatic” periods wreak havoc on her life once a month. “If I’m honest, my hormonal changes during my menstrual cycle are ruining my life. Every month,” she told InStyle magazine, per PEOPLE. “It’s unbelievable. It’s really fucking amazing. I can’t get a grip on it.”
The actress also said she is “totally scandalized” by how drastically her mind and body change during her cycle. For instance, her breasts become “like eight times the size they normally are” when she’s menstruating.
“It’s also very tricky to figure out what type of birth control you’re meant to be on, and if it’s even healthy,” she added, alluding to how birth control is often prescribed to people who have period problems to regulate their cycle.
Julianne Hough began experiencing severe period pain at age 15, but she didn’t get diagnosed with endometriosis until she was 20. She learned that she had the condition after being rushed to the emergency room with excrutiating abdominal cramps.
“I thought it was just what it feels like to be a girl with bad periods,” she told Women’s Health in 2016. “I didn’t think to go to the gynecologist. Because I’m a competitor, I felt like I had to push through the pain and just work.”
Speaking to TODAY in 2017, the Dancing With the Stars pro described her endo pain as “sharp,” like a dagger, and “almost instant” in its onset. Although she still experiences bouts of agony, understanding the cause of her pain has helped her tremendously, she said.
“It sort of gives you peace of mind… just knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this and that I’m not overreacting,” she added. “Giving myself more compassion for how I’m feeling.”
As part of a 2017 campaign for the U.K. nonprofit ActionAid, Jessie J opened up about her “very heavy and painful periods.”
“I used to get so much pain and cramps I would be sick, sometimes resulting in going into [the] hospital,” the singer shared. She recalled one particularly bad bout of period pain during a school exam. At the time, she tried to “push through” the pain…only to throw up all over her exam.
“Every woman’s body is different and deals with pain, cramps, bleeding differently,” she added. “So work out what is best for you.”
Zara Larsson opened up about her “really severe” case of PMDD in 2019.
“[The anxiety] comes on and off — especially before my period. … I can barely get out of my bed,” she told Grazia Daily. “And it feels really, really bad — and I know that I’m not alone in that. It doesn’t really matter how much success or how much money or everything you want in life; that will still stick around, you know.”
The pop singer said she hopes her transparency will comfort other people who have the condition.
“It’s something that you kind of have to learn to do with,” she continued. “I like to just say how I feel and I know that helps me a lot to just be honest about it, [but] I think it also helps the people who are following me to see that, oh, this is normal — like, I’m not weird.”
Prior to getting diagnosed with endometriosis, Tia Mowry spent the bulk of her 20s dealing with “excrutiating” period pain. In a 2021 Instagram Live, she remembered leaving class during college to go sit in the bathroom because her pain was so severe.
Sadly, it took Mowry five years to find a doctor who would take her painful periods seriously.
“I was devastated,” she recalled, per SHAPE. “I was depressed. I felt alone. I felt crazy. Because I was like, ‘Well, something must be wrong with me, if these doctors are out here not taking my symptoms seriously, just bypassing my frustrations and my concerns and my symptoms.’”
Mowry believes her struggle to get diagnosed was at least in part because of her race. (The doctor who did finally help her was a fellow Black woman.) Indeed, research shows that Black women are less likely than white women to get diagnosed with endo. It’s just one example of how bias pervades medicine.
Amy Schumer also has endometriosis. As a result of the condition, she’s struggled with heavy, painful periods for years.
“Because I do have endometriosis, PMS is very major for me, emotionally and physically,” the actress and comedian told Glamour in 2020. “I’m in pain a full week and a half before I get it and crazy sensitive. That’s my chemistry. That’s my body.”
Schumer has been so open about her period woes because she believes in normalizing conversations about menstruation. In fact, she partnered with Tampax in 2020 to champion this cause.
In 2022, TikTok star Dixie D’Amelio opened up about getting diagnosed with PMDD. At the time, she’d taken an unannounced hiatus from social media.
“I recently got diagnosed with this thing called PMDD, which is premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” she told her 22.6 million Instagram followers. “It really affects your moods and your behavior and many different parts of your life. I feel like I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until I got to this point I was in last week.”
She went on to explain how she’d sometimes find herself contemplating death by suicide seemingly out of nowhere. “I just felt like I had no control over my body or mind, and I had no idea what was wrong but it would turn on and off like a light switch,” she added. “That was very confusing to me, because how can I go one day feeling fine and then the next day not wanting to be here anymore?”
Luckily, D’Amelio is doing well and feeling “very happy” after seeking treatment for her PMDD symptoms.
Lena Dunham has spoken (and written) at length about her struggles with endometriosis, including her irregular, painful periods. Back in 2017, the Girls star and co-creator joked on Instagram about how endo had caused her to bleed for 13 days straight.
“When paparazzi follows you but you’re not even mad cuz you love your look and the chance to show off the leather skirt Jemima lent you and anyway you’ve had your period for 13 days and the inauguration is in 10 so this is the least of your fucking problems,” she wrote.
After battling endo for a decade, Dunham opted to have a hysterectomy at 31 years old. Removing her uterus meant she’d finally be free of endo-related pain and period problems. But it was also a complicated and emotional decision for Dunham, who’d always wanted to have children.
“Despite some small complications… I am healing like a champ,” she wrote in a 2018 essay for Vogue. “I have a limp, the result of a pinched nerve in my pelvis, but I rock it like the new Balenciaga boots I bought myself as a push present. My mind, my spirit, are another story. Because I had to work so hard to have my pain [from endo] acknowledged, there was no time to feel fear or grief. To say goodbye.”
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