Sports Medicine: Female Athlete Triad
What is the female athlete triad?The female athlete triad is the relationship of three medical conditions (disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis) that commonly affects female athletes. These conditions alone can cause significant health risks. Adolescents and young female athletes that burn more calories than they are taking in are vulnerable to this condition.
What causes the female athlete triad?
Being driven to excel in athletics combined with the pressure to fit a certain body image can lead to eating disorders. Inadequate calorie intake combined with prolonged exercise can lead to amenorrhea (ceasing of the menstrual cycle) and osteoporosis (bone density loss).
What are the symptoms of the female athlete triad?
Symptoms of the female athlete triad include:
- Weight loss
- Disordered eating (i.e. anorexia nervosa, bulimia)
- Restricting food intake
- Preoccupation with food and weight
- Absent menstrual cycles
- Recurrent injuries
- Stress Fractures
- Constant fatigue
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Overtraining/excessive training
How is the female athlete triad diagnosed?
Early detection and intervention is important. If a parent or coach recognizes the symptoms, medical and psychological help should be sought as soon as possible. The physician will order blood tests to determine electrolyte and estrogen levels among others. If the athlete has complaints of bone pain, diagnostic testing may be necessary to determine the presence of stress fractures and the potential onset of osteoporosis.
What is the treatment for the female athlete triad?
A coordinated team approach including a physician, a nutritionist, the parents, a psychologist and an athletic trainer is important for the athlete to receive treatment for the female athlete triad. The athlete needs to gain an understanding of what led them to disorder eating and how to manage those situations in the future. A dietician may help the athlete understand how to increase their calorie intake in a healthy manner. The physician will often put a restriction on the amount and types of exercise that the athlete may do in order to limit the calories burned.
What is the long term outlook for the female athlete triad?
If treated early and properly educated, athletes can have a full return to sport. However, the longer the female athlete triad goes untreated, the more significant and long term the effects may be on the body and the mind.