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Jul 26, 2014 06:21 AM EDT

Female triathletes at Risk of Developing Pelvic-Floor Disorders and Menstrual Irregularities, Study

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Female triathletes face a heightened risk of developing a series of health problems due to excessive exercise and inadequate nutrition, according to a new study by the Loyola University Health System (LUHS).

Researchers said that these athletes suffer from pelvic-floor disorders, decreased energy, menstrual irregularities and abnormal bone density. About 1 in every 3 female triathletes were found to develop pelvic-floor disorders like urinary incontinence, bowel incontinence and pelvic-organ prolapse.

"There has been a surge in popularity of high-impact sports such as triathlons, but little has been known until now about the prevalence of pelvic health and certain other issues associated with endurance training and events," said Colleen Fitzgerald, study investigator and physiatrist, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers surveyed 311 female triathletes with average age between 35-44 years. About 82 percent of the athletes were training for a triathlon at the time of the survey. On average, participants ran 3.7 days a week, biked 2.9 days a week and swam 2.4 days a week.

Researchers found that among participants who reported pelvic-floor-disorder symptoms, 16 percent of them were associated with urgency urinary incontinence, 37.4 percent had stress urinary incontinence, 28 percent had bowel incontinence and 5 percent had pelvic-organ prolapse.

Plus, nearly 22 percent of all participants experienced problematic eating habits, 24 percent had menstrual irregularities and 29 percent showed abnormal bone strength.

"While both pelvic-floor disorders and the female athlete triad are prevalent in female triathletes, both are often ignored," said Johnny Yi, MD, urogynecologist and study investigator. "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."

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