Dr Jacqueline Maybin – why women have heavy periods

Dr Jacqueline Maybin, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh University: Understanding why women have heavy periods: the role of oxygen and blood vessels

£179,486 over 36 months

The lining of the womb (endometrium) is shed monthly during a period. The mechanisms that stop bleeding and initiate endometrial repair are not well understood. We propose that endometrial blood vessels need to narrow during bleeding to minimise blood loss. This constriction leads to low oxygen levels, which we think triggers the repair of the endometrium that is necessary at the end of a period.

Women with heavy periods may have less narrowing of blood vessels during a period, meaning they lose more blood and have delayed repair of their endometrium. Heavy periods are common, debilitating and expensive. Better treatments are greatly needed but can’t be invented until we fully understand how the endometrium works in women with normal and heavy periods.

We will measure the menstrual blood loss of women during a period to identify those with heavy and normal bleeding. We can then assess the blood flow through their endometrium by performing specialised pelvic MRI scans during a period and when not bleeding. These scans will allow us to see (i) if there is decreased endometrial blood flow during a period and (ii) if women with heavy bleeding have abnormally increased blood flow at this time compared to women with normal periods.

Our hope is that if we find women with heavy periods have increased blood flow during a period, we may be able to correct this with medication and reduce their blood loss.