Olympic Menstruation

I’ve never heard a woman claim that menstruation was pleasant or convenient, or that it enhanced their athletic prowess. Now that the Olympics are under way, I suddenly find myself wondering how all these world-class female athletes deal with their periods. After training for years and years to be at the top of their sport, do they just tough it out if their period shows up when they’re supposed to compete? Or is it common practice to adopt some form of hormonal birth control and phase it so that menstruation won’t occur until after their final event?

A lack of periods is common among high(and not so high) level women athletes.

Uta Pippig somewhat famously won the 1996 Boston Marathon while having menstrual bleeding so heavy that it literally ran down her leg. If you do a Google image search you can turn up some photos of it.

So yeah, I think basically the answer is, they definitely just tough it out. And as runner pat mentioned, a lot of athletes in training have irregular cycles anyway. Anecdotally, one of my best friends in high school ran track and field, and would routinely go 5-6 months without having her period.

Even more extreme is that many of the female gymnasts have delayed onset of puberty-some as late as 18.

I would also guess that some female athletes could also take birth control pills to skip their periods.

According to wiki, it looks like Pippig also had diaarhea. shudder

For quite a few women their periods, while annoying, aren’t actually debilitating. As exercise tends to reduce symptoms such as cramping, and Olympic athletes by definition exercise a lot, those that are having their periods are much less likely to suffer significant problems because of it.

So yeah, they tough it out. And for many it may be more annoyance than hindrance.

Couldn’t they just dose up on the birth-control pill, just for that month? Maybe it would give a false positive in a drugs test, IDK.

  1. Many women are not incapacitated or have debilitating cramps throughout menstration. And even those who do have cramps, they are not necessarily a constant thing, perhaps they experience it for a few hours one day, or every other day, or not even for an hour, just a few minutes.

  2. Physical activity reduces any cramps, for the most part.

  3. Personally and anedoctally, menstruation in my case improves my physical abilities. I have more stamina, more endurance, and more strength, for example.

  4. There are birth control pills (Seasonique?) that don’t require you to increase the amount of birth controls, just lack a monthly placebo set. Alternatively, they can go from the placebo set of pills to the next cycle of pills.

  5. If they’re training too hard and lack a lot of fat, they may lack cycles.

  6. They do have to be careful that if they take something for cramps, it does not contain anything that may show up in doping tests, no matter how inoffensive it may seem.

Yeah. I found a picture where diarrhea seems clearly involved.

I once called a girlfriend out on this. If female marathoners can compete during their periods, how come she was in such agony that she had to spend all day on the couch, only surviving at all thanks to a constant stream of bad TV, ice cream and foot rubs? She got this look of sudden panic on her face that clearly said “Oh no! They’ve caught on!”, and refused to answer.

Of course, on the other hand, I’ll bet Usain Bolt won’t let a minor sniffle keep him from setting world records, while for me, it obviously means that I couldn’t possible go to the gym for the next three days.

It’s different from woman to woman, and it changes through the years. When I was younger, I got full-on incapacitating cramps. If I felt them coming on, I’d just walk out of class and go home, because I knew I was in for a few hours of the worst pain I had ever felt- and I have a very high tolerance for pain. Some women have cramps as painful as childbirth, and I am sure that I was among them. My mother, too, had the same issue. According to my doctor, I have a tipped uterus (my uterus is in a slightly different position- not a big deal) and that is a factor.

But between time and hormonal birth control, my cramps are now a mild annoyance that I barely feel. With the DivaCup, my period is almost nothing at all- it’s something that takes about two minutes of my time twice a day and otherwise isn’t on my radar.

So some people suffer a lot, and there are solutions to that (including hormonal birth control- and yes, it is trivially easy to delay a period.) Others aren’t really that heavily affected and it’s not a big deal. In all cases, it’s generally only a portion of the first day that you’d be physically hurting, so you’d have to be extremely unlucky for it to be a factor.

Well to be fair to your girlfriend, some women genuinely are in agony during their periods because of a medical condition related to it or maybe they just have really bad periods. A marathoner is probably more motivated to either find a way to deal with the pain or maybe she’s on birth control/ has periods without any symptoms.

There really does seem to be a meme out there that All Women Are Alike, seen in the OP with the assumption that menstruation is somehow equally debilitating to all women, and with Martian Bigfoot’s post which can be read as all women are fakers (I really hope that was not what he really meant to say).

For the record: menstruation experiences vary GREATLY among women, and in the same woman from one decade to another. Some barely notice it. For others it is genuine agony sometimes culminating in major surgery to remove organs. Most women are in between the two extremes, but even for the average women if there is sufficiently great motivation the discomfort can be overcome/worked through. Just because elite women athletes can run a marathon or win Olympic gold while on the rag does not mean the average woman isn’t a bit more inconvenienced by the monthly event. A woman shouldn’t be judged against what a small minority can do, nor should be limited by the misfortune of a few who are genuinely debilitated.

Remember she continued to get her periods, very likely, for the several years of prior training that it took to get her there. She already knows how to work through it, I’d wager.

And yeah, you should cut your girl friend some slack on that I’d say. Anyone who can get up and run a marathon or work out during their period, and ‘power through’, certainly deserves to take a day and couch surf, whenever that’s not required. (I might have told you to ‘Piss Off!’)

It seems to me that suffering from incapacitating cramps once a month would in fact preclude success at the top level without medical intervention, whether by painkillers or hormones. For example to qualify for the Olympics a woman has to succeed in a number of competitions over a period of time, if she isn’t on top form for some of these she may fail to qualify.

Do Olympic rules allow for emptying out your uterus? Or endrometrial ablation?

Holy cammoly. I know this off-topic, but can tell me about this? A hysterectomy?

There’s a way to bring your period about earlier- I have done this while planning vacations to the beach. IIRC correctly, it involves taking Rx progesterone(?) for a few days, which fluffs the uterine lining and causes menstruation on cue, as it were.

at the end of the symbol is a red ring.

Yes, in cases of severe bleeding a hysterectomy can be justified. Some unfortunate women have problems like endometriosis severe enough to induce actual anemia, even require hospitalization. It is, of course, a dysfunction of the reproductive organs, but it manifests as serious bleeding along with truly agonizing pain. Some are helped by hormonal medication but some are not. I have personally known two women in that sad state and in both cases their overall health improved markedly after hysterectomy. We’ve had a few women here on the Dope relate their own stories of choosing hysterectomies for one reason or another.

For a truly unpleasant complication of the female menstrual cycle check out catamenial pneumothorax, where endometrium tissue migrates to the area of the lungs and can cause a collapsed lung during the cycle. If it leads to cyst formation and the cyst ruptures it can lead to hemorrhaging from the affected lung(s).

Of course, this is EXTREMELY rare! Treatment can include surgery to remove as much endometrium as possible from all locations in the body and removal of the ovaries to shut down the menstrual cycle because, as I’m sure is fairly obvious, this could prove fatal if it can’t otherwise be controlled.

So, um, slight hijack to “worst case scenarios” over, back to the thread…