The National Sport Institute (ISC) has launched a women’s health clinic to address health issues among the nation’s female athletes.
Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh shared that the women’s health clinic resulted from a town hall session conducted with the nation’s female athletes last August. The clinic has been operational since October 4th, 2023, every Wednesday from 9am to 1pm.
How The Idea Came About
During a town hall session last August, many national female athletes voiced their thoughts and concerns to the Youth and Sports Ministry. Some were in pain regularly each month and the lack of a female doctor/ obstetrician/ gynaecologist for consultation made things worse.
Minister Hannah Yeoh said, ‘’ We cannot expect coaches, who are mainly men, to advise women athletes on these issues as they may not have sufficient perspective about women’s health issues’’.
Meet The Team
The clinic is run by a permanent in-house doctor, Doctor Wan Nadiah Zainab Wan Azman, with the aid of visiting obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr. Jerilee Azhary. They work closely to handle and provide necessary medical services catering to the nation’s women athletes.
The Female Athlete Triad
The female athlete triad is a term that encompasses three different but interrelated medical conditions that commonly occur among female athletes. The conditions are:
- Disordered eating
- Menstrual irregularity
- Low bone mineral density
These conditions can occur when a female athlete pushes herself too much to achieve the ideal body weight by eating too little/ binge eating or exercising too much. This can lead to long-term health consequences, hurt athletic performance and even death.
Disordered Eating Leading To Energy Imbalance
This usually occurs due to fear of weight gain or to maintain the ideal body weight for athletic reasons. It can result in severe weight loss and even starvation. Adhering to an overly strict diet may cause inadequate consumption of protein, iron, calcium and zinc for the body. This can lead to lower energy levels, reduced bone density and menstrual irregularities. The risk of bone loss also increases when the body fat percentage is low.
This usually occurs due to:
- Poor nutrition
- Low-calorie intake
- High-energy demands
- Hormonal changes due to lack of body fat
These factors can eventually lead to a stop in menstrual periods. Lack of regular menstruation has been linked to reduced oestrogen, which can lead to weakened bones.
Low Bone Mineral Density (Osteoporosis)
Poor nutrition, irregular menstruation and intense exercise lead to osteoporosis among female athletes. Premature osteoporosis can cause stress fractures and can even affect the hips or spine. It is important to remember that many female athletes with optimum physical condition usually have the highest risk of osteoporosis and fractures, especially in the presence of poor eating habits and irregular menstruation.
Dr. Jerilee Azhary, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in University Malaya Medical Center (UMMC), is glad to be a part of the team. Dr. Jerilee obtained her PhD from Tokyo University while researching treatment options for a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
She received a scholarship from the College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) while she worked on a drug that prevents ovarian cell death caused by PCOS. Besides her effort to improve women’s reproductive health in general, Dr. Jerilee also aims to improve the accuracy of PCOS diagnosis as more than half of the patients affected are asymptomatic.
“A teenager may not know she has PCOS until she gets married and finds out she is infertile while trying to conceive. Some patients with lack of awareness/ health education might even ignore it until they are 40 or 50 years old, which significantly raises their chances for developing endometrial cancer. I want to break that cycle.’’
Dr. Jerilee will continue her noble pursuit, especially among young, female athletes at risk of many different but interrelated medical conditions that arise due to elevated physical and mental stress. The clinic offers consultations, health check-ups and external referrals for selected cases.
Women’s health education sessions will also be carried out to help female national athletes better understand how their bodies function, the changes that occur with intensive exercise, how to look out for abnormal changes or symptoms and the importance of health screening.
Photo Credit: Bernama