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Keywords:

  • exercise;
  • female;
  • menstrual disturbances;
  • bone density

This article reviews the skeletal effects and clinical implications of menstrual disturbances in active women. At the lumbar spine, menstrual disturbances are associated with premature bone loss or failure to reach peak bone mass, while appendicular sites are less affected. This suggests that trabecular bone is more sensitive to hormonal stimuli and less responsive to mechanical loading than cortical bone. Although the mechanisms responsible for the detrimental effects of menstrual disturbances are likely to be multifactorial, low circulating levels of oestrogen are thought to be the main cause. The clinical significance of menstrual disturbances depends upon a number of factors, including type of sport, genetic back-ground, body composition and calcium intake. Not all athletes who present with menstrual disturbances will develop osteopenia. Nevertheless, the risk of stress fracture does seem to be increased in athletes with menstrual disturbances and with lower bone density. Whether athletes with menstrual disturbances are at a greater risk for osteoporosis in later life is not yet known. Bone loss can be at least partially reversed, especially with the spontaneous resumption of menses. This may serve to offset any previous increased risk of osteoporsis. Furthermore, other factors, apart from low bone mass, act to determine the likelihood of osteoporotic fractures. Therefore, the clinical significance of menstrual disturbances associated with exercise participation needs to be established for each individual athlete. Bone densitometry may guide the clinician in this respect and assist in the formulation of appropriat management strategies.