Women’s Health A-Z
Female Athlete Triad
The Female Athlete Triad refers to three related conditions that may range in severity. A higher energy output than intake is the cause of all three conditions. This usually means that more calories are being burned during exercised than consumed via food intake, which is why it gets its name. The following are the three components involved in the Female Athlete Triad.
This is the main cause of the triad and is a result of a woman not consuming enough food to sustain her athletic activities. Sometimes this deficiency can be the result of disordered eating or more serious eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
Amenorrhea refers to the loss of a menstrual cycle for three months or more. With the Female Athlete Triad, it is caused by energy deficiency. It’s important to note that women who are having irregular periods may also be suffering from the triad.
While exercise generally causes bone gain, women with the Triad can lose bone mass. Loss of bone mass raises their risk of fractures, including stress fractures. Low estrogen levels from energy deficiency cause bone loss to occur.
Treatment for The Female Athlete Triad
It is important to restore bone mineral density, energy, regular menstrual cycles, and healthy eating. Treatment usually involves a team of providers who all may interact with the patient. This team may include a gynecologist or primary care physician, a sports coach, a nutritionist, and sometimes a therapist or psychiatrist. The goal is to correct the energy imbalance through proper food intake and the correct balance of physical activity. We also recommend patients to increase their calcium and Vitamin D intake. Birth control pills may also help correct the hormonal imbalance caused by energy deficiency.
The Female Athlete Triad can occur in women of almost any age, but adolescents and young women are especially susceptible. This is also the age at which a high percentage of bone mass accrual takes place. Women and their friends and family should be aware of early signs of the Triad so treatment can begin as quickly as possible.