Researchers that Wellbeing of Women helped fund at the University of Edinburgh have discovered a possible cause of heavy periods that could result in new treatments for women living with the condition.
Heavy menstrual bleeding affects one in three women and can lead to severe anaemia – a lack of red blood cells.
Scientists were able to identify a key protein by examining the womb lining called the endometrium. During menstruation the endometrium is shed, leaving behind a wound-like surface that must heal to limit blood loss.They discovered that lowered levels of oxygen – known as hypoxia – stimulates production of a protein called HIF-1, which drives repair of the womb lining.
Women with heavy periods had reduced levels of HIF-1 compared with women with normal blood loss, the findings showed.
Dr Jackie Maybin, Clinical Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health, who led the study, 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.”
Wellbeing of Women CEO Tina Weaver said: “Heavy bleeding is a debilitating and common condition that affects thousands of women and girls but too often gets dismissed.
“Wellbeing of Women is delighted to have supported this work, which has led to the breakthrough discovery of causes of the condition so treatments might now be developed. These findings give hope to women who have suffered in silence with the condition for too long.”
The study was published in Nature Communications.