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Menstruation and Menstrual Problems: Research Activities and Scientific Advances

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Institute Activities and Advances

The NICHD conducts and supports research to learn more about menstrual irregularities. The following organizational units address issues related to menstruation and the causes and effects of menstrual irregularities.

  • The Division of Intramural Population Health Research (DIPHR) is interested in statistical methodology, comparative etiologies, and the health endpoints needed to identify mechanisms, at-risk groups, and interventions. Some of these activities include:
    • Gaining a better understanding of the intricate relationship between hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone, etc.) and oxidative stress during the menstrual cycle. Data from the BioCycle Study are helping researchers examine the intracycle variation of oxidative stress, reproductive hormones, inflammation, and metabolic biomarkers; the relation between hormone levels and oxidative stress during the menstrual cycle in premenopausal women; and the influence of external factors (such as dietary intake, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and exercise) on oxidative stress and hormone levels.
    • Developing various approaches to modeling menstrual cycle function. The menstrual cycle is a complex process that involves multiple hormones regulated by feedback mechanisms. To describe the factors associated with menstrual cycle function and inform women's health research, the DIPHR is developing statistical models to answer questions like:
      • What is the "typical" menstrual cycle pattern in a population of women?
      • How do lifestyle factors that vary between women (e.g., dietary intake, physical activity, stress) affect a typical menstrual cycle?
      • How does the variation in menstrual cycle function differ between women and across consecutive cycles on the same woman?
      • What is the inter-relationship between multiple hormones across the menstrual cycle?
    • Determining the relationships between endometriosis and environmental chemicals, lifestyle, and medical history. The Endometriosis: Natural History, Diagnosis, and Outcomes (ENDO) Study is following 625 women undergoing surgery for this disorder, which often involves irregular, painful menstruation. The study compares these women's medical findings, life characteristics, and other factors to those of women of similar age and location who don't have endometriosis.
  • Various components of the Division of Intramural Research study aspects of menstruation and menstrual irregularities. For example:
    • The Sec​tion on Reproductive Endocrinology works on endometrial physiology and endometriosis pathologies. The section has published studies on the endometrium, localization of lesions in endometriosis, characte​rizing receptors, and the use of raloxifene as a treatment for endometriosis. This section also published a landmark article on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during pregnancy.
    • The Unit on Reproductive and Regenerative Medicine conducts research on disorders that affect reproduction. The section is interested in endometrial stem cells and disorders that affect the endometrium. These disorders can result in scarring of the uterine cavity, abnormal bleeding, endometriosis, infertility due to implantation failures, and recurrent pregnancy loss.
    • The Unit on Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility is studying the relationship between the BRX gene complex and uterine fibroid generation. The laboratory also is studying gene regulation and growth factors involved in uterine fibroid development.
    • The Unit on Genetics of Puberty and Reproduction conducts research on the genetic basis of sexual maturation. In particular, researchers are examining the ways in which mutations in genes linked to pubertal development can lead to disorders of puberty and reproduction.
  • Components of the Division of Extramural Research also support studies on normal menstruation and conditions related to menstrual irregularities.

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