Updated 29 May 2015

Female triathletes at risk of incontinence

High-impact sports like triathlons are becoming popular, but may impact on female health issues like pelvic health disorders, and eventually lead to incontinence.


Women who compete in triathlons are at increased risk for pelvic floor disorders, including incontinence, and other health problems, a new study says.

Endurance training

"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," study author Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald, a physiatrist at Loyola University Health System, said in a university news release.

The term "pelvic floor" refers to the muscles that support the pelvic organs, such as the uterus, bladder or bowel.

Read: Causes of incontinence

Researchers surveyed more than 300 female triathletes, with a median age range of 35 to 44. On average, they ran 3.7 days a week, cycled 2.9 days a week and swam 2.4 days a week.

One-third said they had pelvic floor disorder symptoms, such as urgency urinary incontinence (16 percent), stress urinary incontinence (37 percent), bowel incontinence (28 percent) and pelvic organ prolapse (5 percent).

Survey results

The survey also revealed that 29 percent of the women had abnormal bone density, 24 percent had menstrual irregularities, and 22 percent had disordered eating. These are components of the so-called female athlete triad, according to the study, which is to be presented Thursday at an American Urogynecologic Society meeting in Washington, D.C.

While the research shows an association between triathlon training and certain health issues, it doesn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

Read: Treating incontinence

Pelvic floor disorders and the female athlete triad are often ignored, study author Dr. Johnny Yi, a urogynecologist at Loyola, said in the news release.

"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," Yi said.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Read More:

Sexy underwear makes incontinence look good

6 everyday things to avoid if you have urge incontinence

Incontinence takes its toll on younger women

Image: Female triathlete from Shutterstock

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Incontinence Expert

Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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