How To Recognize The Female Athlete Triad
The female athlete triad refers to a medical condition that can cause long-term health damage or death. We explain the condition and tell you how to recognize it.
Athletic activity and competition are wonderful ways for girls and women to develop fitness habits that can contribute to good health for a lifetime. Over the years, we’ve been pleased to treat female athletes in an expanding variety of competitive sports. Where once the female athletes with “household names” usually earned their fame as gymnasts and skaters, today the range of competitive women’s sports is much broader. Runners, tennis players, soccer stars, golfers, volleyball champions, and more are recognized and admired as sportswomen.
The trend in growing athleticism for women is a positive one. Occasionally, however, female athletes in sports with an emphasis on a tiny physique may begin to exercise too much or eat too little, putting their health at risk. Three interrelated illnesses can develop when an athlete begins to push herself past healthful limits:
- Disordered Eating. When focus on maintaining a trim body prompts abnormal eating habits such as crash diets, binge eating, or excessive exercise, nutritional needs begin to suffer. Over time, disordered eating can cause problems like dehydration, muscle fatigue, erratic heartbeat, kidney damage, bone loss, and other conditions.
- Menstrual Problems. Poor nutrition, reduced calorie intake, excessive exercise, stress, or low body fat can trigger hormonal changes that stop menstrual periods. Although missing one period isn’t necessarily a warning signal, missing three or more periods in a row is cause for concern.
- Premature Osteoporosis. When the menstrual cycle stops, the body becomes less effective at building bone. Bones weaken, and the risk of a fracture increases.
Female athletes in any sport can develop one or more of the illnesses in the triad, but the athletes most at risk are girls or women in sports that reward a thin appearance. Fashion trends, advertising, and pressures from coaches or parents can further feed preoccupation with weight.
Recognizing the symptoms is the first step toward treatment designed to help a female athlete back to a healthy athletic life. If an athlete misses several menstrual periods, gets a stress fracture, or shows signs of disordered eating, it’s time to see the doctor without delay. Often, the female athlete triad is treated by a group of healthcare professionals that may include a doctor, athletic trainer, nutritionist, and counselor.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise
From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those that just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, Plymouth, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.
More resources for you
Learn why muscle fatigue may be the culprit behind recreational basketball injuries.
One Patient’s Experience Returning to a Healthy and Active Lifestyle.
Ask the Expert: Foot and Ankle Video Series