Painful journey to endometriosis discovery for actress

Savannah Meacham |

Christie Whelan Browne says she regrets ignoring endometriosis until later in her life.
Christie Whelan Browne says she regrets ignoring endometriosis until later in her life.

Christie Whelan Browne always had debilitating periods.

But it took an ovarian cyst rupture at the age of 26 for doctors to finally diagnose the cause of her pain – endometriosis.

“It literally took something bursting inside me to investigate what was going on,” the now 42-year-old Melbourne-based actress told AAP.

However, before surgery, Whelan Browne was still anxious that maybe all the pain was in her head.

It was a relief when she finally received the diagnosis.

“When I woke up (from surgery) I asked ‘Did you find it?’ and they said ‘Yes we did’,” she said.

“But they were unable to remove it because it was wrapped around my bowel and it was stage four (endometriosis).”

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other parts of the abdomen. 

At the time of her diagnosis, Whelan Browne was working hard to establish her career.

So she decided to go on strong birth control in a bid to ignore the problem by skipping her painful periods.

“When I turned 35 and decided to have a baby that’s when I realised …I was looking down the barrel of not being able to have children,” she said.

“I just chose to ignore (endometriosis) and get on with my life and I really regret that.”

She was eventually able to have a son but only after four painful years of trying.

One in seven Australian women are diagnosed with endometriosis by their early 40s, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data.

It takes on average five years to receive a formal diagnosis.

But a new app, called CHARLI, is aiming to reduce that time by tracking menstruation, fertility, pregnancy and pain levels.

The artificial-intelligence-driven app identifies abnormal patterns by data logged by women.

It will send an alert if they talk to their doctor about the possibility of endometriosis or other conditions like perimenopause and polycystic ovary syndrome.

When visiting a doctor or emergency department, the app’s data can be shared with health professionals.

The app can link women to telehealth options and also lets them participate in research projects in a bid to gain more information about endometriosis and better treatment options.

The app – co-designed by nurses, doctors and women – is also expected to help regional and remote women understand their health.

Co-creator Samantha Costa – a clinical specialist nurse and midwife – said the app was all about empowering women and validating what they are going through.

She hoped it would help remove the stigma around periods so more women are diagnosed if they have endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome or perimenopause.

The app is free for the first three months.

Whelan Browne urged young women not to ignore painful periods and investigate a potential endometriosis diagnosis.

“I wish I’d spent the previous years really looking at the problems rather than just trying to survive them,” she said.