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Endometriosis: For one SIU researcher, it’s not just work, it’s personal

March 23, 2018

When Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming, PhD, was 17 years old, she had already suffered from endometriosis for several years. After years of intense pain and numerous surgeries, doctors were urging the teenager to have a hysterectomy to relieve her pain.

Endometriosis patient and researcher Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming“The pain is intense. For me, it feels as if someone is punching me in the lower gut. It even hurt to breathe. I was missing school because I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Endometriosis occurs when the uterus’ lining grows outside the uterus, resulting in painful lesions on other organs and possible infertility. Women often experience pelvic pain during and between periods, pain during sex, heavy menstrual bleeding and even infertility.  An estimated 176 million women are affected. March is #Endometriosis Awareness Month.

Knowing she would eventually want to have children, Andrea resisted a hysterectomy, and today she is not only the mother of three, but as a researcher at SIU Medicine, she may have found a way to help women who suffer from endometriosis.

Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell Biology, and her colleagues say if they can better understand how endometriosis affects the body’s microorganisms, doctors will be able to better diagnose and treat the disease.

Currently, minimally-invasive surgery is how doctors diagnose endometriosis. Recent results from a collaborative research project found that women diagnosed with moderate endometriosis had significantly different bacteria in the uterus and cervix and greater inflammation throughout the body.  As a result, Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming says, physicians may be able to diagnosis endometriosis by analyzing bacteria through swabs or urine samples.

As an endometriosis patient, Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming has endured 13 surgeries, hormone therapies and endometrial ablation. Despite these efforts, the pain endures. “It’s hard to be a good mom when you are in pain for almost one week every month. Dealing with chronic pain takes a big toll on my personality and attitude. I’m lucky to have very supportive family, friends and co-workers who keep me grounded and motivated. That is why I do the research that I do: to move this field forward.”

She hopes her work will help women be diagnosed earlier without surgery. “Hopefully, routine screening and earlier detection will help patients get treated earlier and with more targeted treatments to reduce pain and inflammation.”  Her research is funded by the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

--Written by Karen Carlson

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Read: Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming’s research 

Watch: Endometriosis: A Researcher's Personal Pain

Watch: The Future of the Biome & How Patients Can Help