A new study presented at the American Urogynecologic Society 2014 Scientific Meeting in Washington, DC, finds that female triathletes are at risk of pelvic floor disorders, such as urinary or bowel incontinence, as well as female athlete triad syndrome – symptoms of which include reduced energy as a result of eating patterns, menstrual problems and abnormal bone density.

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Of the female triathletes in the study, researchers found that 1 in 3 developed a pelvic floor disorder, while 1 in 4 experienced a symptom of female athlete triad syndrome.

The research team, including Dr. Johhny Yi, a urogynecologist at Loyola University Health System in Chicago, IL, notes that more and more people are engaging in high-impact sports, such as triathlons – a single race that incorporates running, biking and swimming.

According to USA Triathlon – the national governing body for triathlons in the US – its annual memberships increased by 5.5% between 2012 and 2013, from 165,698 to to 174,787.

As with many sports, the training regime for triathlons and the actual events themselves are rigorous. But the researchers point out that very little is known about the health problems associated with such adverse activity.

With this in mind, Yi and colleagues surveyed 311 women with an average age of 35-44 who were involved with triathlete groups. At the time of survey, 82% of the women were in the process of training for a triathlon.

The team found that on average, the women in the study ran 3.7 days a week, biked 2.9 days a week and swam 2.4 days a week.

Of these women, 1 in 3 experienced a pelvic floor disorder. Urgency urinary incontinence (a sudden need to pass urine) occurred in 16% of women, 37.4% had stress urinary incontinence (unintentional passing of urine), 28% had bowel incontinence (the inability to control bowel movements), while 5% had pelvic organ prolapse (the bulging of one or more pelvic organs into the vagina).

The researchers note that the intensity of training and the mileage involved had no bearing on the incidence of pelvic floor disorder symptoms.

In addition, the team found that 1 in 4 women had one symptom of “female athlete triad” syndrome. In detail, 29% of the women had abnormal bone strength, 24% had irregular menstruation, while 22% had problematic eating patterns.

Speaking of the importance of these findings, Yi says:

While both pelvic floor disorders and the female athlete triad are prevalent in female triathletes, both are often ignored. 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.”

In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel, which suggested that triathletes feel less pain than individuals who exercise casually.

The authors of that study said their results indicated that triathletes have a greater tolerance of pain because they exhibit certain psychological factors that enable them to cope better with fear of pain and mental stress.