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Study: Female triathletes at risk for pelvic issues, bone loss

Study: Female triathletes at risk for pelvic issues, bone loss

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Female triathletes are at risk for developing pelvic floor conditions such as incontinence or prolapse, according to a recent study presented at the American Urogynecologic Society’s 2014 Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Whether they’re more at risk is unclear.

Loyola University Health System researchers found that about a third of 311 female athletes suffered from incontinence or some other pelvic floor problems, while 29 percent reported having brittle bones related to low bone density.

Sixteen percent reported urge-related urinary incontinence, 37 percent had stress urinary incontinence, and 28 percent reported bowel incontinence.

Those studied had a median age of 35-44 and ran an average of nearly four days a week, biked about three days a week and swam two days a week.

The study didn’t establish a causal link between triathlon training  and pelvic issues, though. Reserachers Drs. Colleen Fitzgerald and Johnny Yi said the miles covered in training and intensity of exercise did not appear to be associated with an increased risk for the pelvic disorders.

Although the study authors did not give the rates of conditions such as pelvic prolapse or urinary incontinence in comparably aged non-triathletes, both conditions are associated with aging, and some studies indicate that the lifetime risk of needing surgery for these conditions for all women in the U.S. is between 7 and 11 percent. In the women surveyed:

  • 5 percent had some degree of pelvic-organ prolapse.
  • A quarter reported menstrual irregularities.
  • 22 percent screened positive for eating issues.
  • A quarter reported issues associated with competitive sports’ “female athlete triad” of disorders — eating disorders, irregular periods and low bone density.

Authors say the findings demonstrate that health providers treating active patients should be aware of potential consequences of certain sports.

“While both pelvic-floor disorders and the female athlete triad are prevalent in female triathletes, both are often ignored,” Yi said. “Doctors should be aware of how common these conditions are in this group of athletes and treat patients appropriately to avoid long-term health consequences.”

Athletes — and all women — can promote pelvic organ health by doing Kegel exercises: those perineum, butt and vagina-tightening movements most only learn about after having a kid or reading Cosmo.

The Urology Care Foundation recommends 45 Kegel squeezes twice a day.

Patricia Kime

Patricia Kime is a health writer for Military Times. Reach her at pkime@militarytimes.com.