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Female athlete triad

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Female athlete triad is a syndrome that affects many female athletes. It refers to three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea (irregular or no periods) and osteoporosis. Active women or young girls who are driven to excel in sports, may develop this syndrome.

Sports and exercise are part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Young women who play sports are healthier, generally achieve better grades, are less likely to experience depression, and use alcohol, cigarettes and drugs less frequently than people who are not athletes. But for some girls, not balancing the needs of their bodies and their sports can have major consequences.

If a girl is at risk for female athlete triad, she already may be experiencing some symptoms and signs including:

  • weight loss
  • no periods or irregular periods
  • fatigue and decreased ability to concentrate
  • stress fractures (fractures that occur even if a person hasn't had a significant injury)
  • muscle injuries

Girls with female athlete triad often have signs and symptoms of eating disorders including:

  • ​continued dieting in spite of weight loss
  • preoccupation with food and weight
  • frequent trips to the bathroom during and after meals
  • use of laxatives
  • brittle hair or nails
  • dental cavities (tooth enamel is worn away by frequent vomiting from bulimia)
  • sensitivity to cold
  • low heart rate and blood pressure
  • heart irregularities and chest pain

Here is advice for female athletes to help avoid the female athlete triad and stay in top physical condition:

Keep track of your periods. It is easy to forget when you had your last period. Keep a calendar in your gym bag and mark down when your period starts and stops, and if the bleeding is particularly heavy or light. That way, if you start missing periods, you'll know right away and will have accurate information to give to your doctor.

Don't skip meals or snacks. If you are constantly on the go between school, practice and competitions, you may be tempted to skip meals and snacks to save time. Taking the time to eat will improve performance later. Stock your locker or bag with quick and easy favorites such as bagels, string cheese, unsalted nuts and seeds, raw vegetables, granola bars and fruit.

Visit a dietitian or nutritionist who works with teen athletes. These experts can help you put a dietary game plan into place and help you find out if you are getting enough key nutrients such as iron, calcium and protein. If you need supplements, a dietitian or nutritionist can recommend the best choices.

Take care of you. Pressure from teammates, parents or coaches can turn a fun activity into a nightmare. If you are not enjoying your sport, make a change. Remember: It's your body and your life. You - not your coach or teammates - will have to live with any damage you do to your body while you are young.

Share comments or questions on this information. E-mail sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.

 

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