Scientists make breakthrough in understanding cause of heavy periods

24th January 2018

By Imogen Robinson

Researchers have discovered the cause of heavy menstrual bleeding, opening up the potential for the development of non-hormonal treatments for the condition.

The team, from the University of Edinburgh, identified a protein, HIF-1, which drives repair of the womb lining.

Production of this protein is stimulated when there are lower levels of oxygen circulating in the blood.

Women with heavy periods had lower levels of HIF-1 than women with normal blood loss, the findings showed.

Tests on mice using a drug to boost levels of HIF-1 led to improved tissue repair and less blood loss, with the results offering hope for new therapies, scientists said.

Heavy bleeding affects one in three women and can lead to severe anaemia, where there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body.

Current therapies used to treat heavy periods are hormone based, and often prevent pregnancy.

However, hormonal treatments can result in unwanted side effects, and many women with extremely heavy periods opt for hysterectomies.

Over 800,000 women per year seek treatment for heavy periods in the UK, and the study authors noted that there is a “clear unmet clinical need for non-hormonal, fertility-preserving and cost-effective” treatments for the condition.

Study author Dr. Jackie Maybin said, “Our findings reveal for the first time that HIF-1 and reduced levels of oxygen in the womb are required during a period to optimise repair of the womb lining.

“Excitingly, increasing levels of the HIF-1 protein in mice shows real promise as a novel, non-hormonal medical treatment.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Imogen Robinson

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

Imogen joined The Femedic after working as a news reporter. Becoming frustrated with the neverending clickbait, she jumped at the chance to work for a site whose ethos revolves around honesty and empathy. From reading articles by doctors to researching her own, and discussing health with a huge variety of women, she is fascinated by just how little we are told about our own bodies and women-specific health issues, and is excited to be working on a site which will dispel myths and taboos, and hopefully help a lot of women.