Female Athlete Triad

Overview

What is the female athlete triad?

The female athlete triad is a disorder that affects your eating habits, your menstrual periods and the strength of your bones. If you have the female athlete triad, you’ve stopped eating normally and may have developed an eating disorder. Your menstrual periods may have stopped or become irregular. You may also have osteoporosis, a disease that makes your bones thin and weak.

Why should I worry about this now, while I’m young?

If you don’t get enough to eat, you may develop nutrient deficiencies that may affect your growth and increase your risk of fractures and injuries. Not having periods for months can also weaken your bones. Without treatment, the loss of bone strength may last forever. Your organs could also sustain damage due to a lack of nutrients.

Symptoms

What are the signs of female athlete triad?

Signs and symptoms of the female athlete triad include:

  • Weight loss
  • Absent or irregular periods
  • Fatigue
  • Stress fractures
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Binge eating
  • Induced vomiting
  • Excessive exercise

Causes

What are the risk factors for female athlete triad?

  • Being a competitive athlete
  • Playing sports that require you to check your weight often or maintain a certain weight
  • Not having time to spend with your friends because your sport takes up all your free time
  • Exercising more than is necessary for your sport
  • Being pushed by your coach or your parents to win at all costs

Diagnosis

How is the female athlete triad diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your periods, your eating habits and your exercise routine. He or she will also do a physical exam. Your doctor may also ask you if you take any medicines such as birth control pills, laxatives or diet pills.

Prevention

How can I keep the female athlete triad from happening?

  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet
  • Exercise in moderate amounts
  • Tell your doctor about any changes in your periods
  • Learn more about healthy eating habits and healthy lifestyle choices

Treatment

How is the female athlete triad treated?

Your doctor will talk with you about changing the way you exercise and the way you eat. Your doctor may also want you to talk to a counselor or a nutritionist to develop a diet plan that is healthy and that provides all of the vitamins and nutrients you need. If your periods don’t come back after you change your diet and exercise routine, your doctor may prescribe medicines such as birth control pills (like estrogen and progesterone) to stop your body from losing any more bone strength.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • I’m a female competitive athlete. Am I at risk for the female athlete triad?
  • How do I strike a balance between my desire to be healthy and my desire to win?
  • Could there be another reason for my irregular periods?
  • What lifestyle changes should I make?
  • Do I need medicine? Counseling?
  • Where can I get help for disordered eating?