Menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive symptom severity and frequency in athletic females

Laura R. Kiemle-Gabbay, Stephanie Valentin, Daniel Martin, Laura J. Forrest*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine symptom severity and frequency in female exercisers and athletes from a diverse range of sports who have a menstrual cycle (MC) or use hormonal contraceptives (HCs). An additional aim was to explore the perceived impact of MC/HC use upon exercise and sport performance. In total, 604 self-identifying female athletes and exercisers (M = 29.4 years, SD = 9.0) from 85 sports/activities completed a survey which included: sport/exercise participation, bleeding characteristics, HC use, symptom severity/frequency, symptom management strategies, menstrual product use, and perceived impact of MC/HC use on exercise performance. The data were subject to mixed-methods analysis. Over one third (n = 225; 37.25%) of participants reported current HC use. Ninety-five percent (95.36%) of participants experienced symptoms related to MC or HC use. Physiological, psychological, and affective symptoms were all among the most prevalent. The most frequently noted severe and very severe symptoms for all participants, MC and HC users, were abdominal cramps (36.92%, 39.32%, and 32.89%, respectively), mood changes (26.16%, 25.07%, and 28.00%, respectively), and tiredness (25.33%, 25.59%, and 24.89%, respectively). Symptom impact was self-managed through medical and/or other (cognitive/behavioral) strategies. Qualitative content analysis of the data produced four overarching themes: (a) the impact of symptoms, (b) menstrual stigma and taboos, (c) protective factors, and (d) coping strategies. In conclusion, menstruation is a multifaceted, unique experience that impacts upon sport/exercise performance. Practitioners should consider athletes’ distinct needs, including the frequency of occurrence and severity of their symptomatic experiences, when facilitating menstruation-supportive training, avoiding a “one-size fits-all” approach.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberwspaj.2023-0086
Number of pages12
JournalWomen in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
Volume32
Issue numberS1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2024

Keywords

  • sport
  • endocrine
  • questionnaire
  • stigma

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