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An End To Heavy Periods? A New Study Can Give Us Hope

Will we soon be turning cartwheels in white pants?

You know those women in feminine hygiene ads?

The ones who look all fresh and chipper, often laughing while turning cartwheels in white pants? Kickboxing in grey spandex? Lounging happily in string bikinis? The ones who have clearly never had actual heavy periods and we hate them?

Rejoice, crampy and cranky women of the world with purses so stuffed with pads and tampons that you look like you robbed a well-stocked pharmacy!

A new study that looked at the causes of heavy menstrual bleeding may have found an effective, non-hormonal treatment. Researchers in the U.K. study, funded by Wellbeing of Women and published Jan. 23 in the journal Nature Communications, identified a key protein in the womb lining that was reduced in women with heavy periods. The protein, HIF-1, drives the repair of the womb lining, researchers explained in a press release.

They also found that lowered levels of oxygen stimulate production of HIF-1, and suggest that increasing levels of the protein showed promise of a "novel, non-hormonal medical treatment" when it was tested on mice.

"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," lead researcher Dr. Jackie Maybin, Clinical Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh's Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health, said in the press release.

Bleeding that lasts more than seven days

Heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) lasts more than seven days, can soak through "one or more tampons or pads every hour for several hours in a row," can cause you to have to wear more than one pad at a time to contain the flow, can result in having to change a pad or tampon overnight, and can include blood clots as big as or bigger than a quarter, according to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC).

"In its worst forms, HMB can prevent you from having a normal social and sexual life, or from being able to carry out your normal activities of daily living," the SOGC wrote on its period information website, YourPeriod.Ca.

Causes of HMB can include hormonal issues (ranging from polycystic ovarian syndrome to stress), bleeding disorders, structural changes such as endometriosis and fibroids, and taking certain medications including some anti-depressants, the SOGC said.

However, in up to half of cases, there is no identifiable cause for heavy menstrual bleeding, the SOGC said.

Heavy bleeding is debilitating

"Heavy bleeding is a debilitating and common condition that affects thousands of women and girls but too often gets dismissed," Wellbeing of Women CEO Tina Weaver said in a press release.

"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."

Heavy periods result in significantly decreased quality of life for women and is a major socio-economic burden, the researchers wrote in the study. And current medical treatments often have "unacceptable hormonal side effects or are ineffective," researchers added.

"Targeting the HIF-1 pathway at menstruation has promising therapeutic potential, offering a non-hormonal, fertility preserving medical treatment option for women with prolonged HMB (heavy menstrual bleeding)," researchers said.

Well, a treatment may still be a way off, but we have hope we'll all be doing yoga in nude leotards in no time.

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