The Female Athlete Triad

A Dangerous Combination for Active Young Women

Female Athlete TriadAs female participation in sports continues to grow, so does our knowledge of the unique health issues young women involved in athletics often face. One issue is known as the female athlete triad, which consists of:

  • Disordered eating—This is often the first part of the female athlete triad. In an effort to lose weight and improve performance, athletes may dangerously limit food intake. This can result in various health problems, including malnourishment, dehydration and depression.
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles—The loss or abnormality of menstrual periods and can be the result of inadequate nutrition. Athletes are more at risk for abnormal menses because of the demands of their sport. If an athlete does not consume enough calories, her body might not produce enough estrogen to maintain monthly menstruation.
  • Decreased bone health (osteoporosis or osteopenia)—Without proper caloric intake and hormone levels, an athlete's body will struggle to produce new healthy cells. This leaves her bones at risk for density loss. Depending on the sport, her training and competition could put her at risk for fractures and other bone-related problems.

The female athlete triad has the potential to be a very serious condition. On top of short-term effects like impaired performance and increased risk for injury, it can also have irreversible effects if not properly treated. Those effects include:

  • Impaired growth
  • Decreased mental functioning
  • Loss of reproduction ability
  • Starvation

Girls who compete in sports that stress low body weight but require a lot of energy are the most at risk. These sports include:

  • Gymnastics
  • Diving
  • Rowing
  • Martial arts or boxing
  • Cheerleading
  • Dance

Know the Signs

The best way to prevent or treat the female athlete triad is to recognize the signs early. The common signs are similar to those of many eating disorders. They include:

  • Restrictive dieting
  • Binge eating
  • Excessive exercise
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Cold extremities
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating

How We Can Help

Our sports medicine doctors understand the female athlete triad and know the signs associated with it. They also know the best ways to treat it while keeping the athlete's desire to compete in mind.

We also have a registered dietitian who can help girls lose or maintain weight in a healthy way that will not sacrifice their well-being or performance.

Call 404-785-6880 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Video: Female Athlete Triad

Female Athlete TriadView

David Popoli, M.D., of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta discusses the female athlete triad.