Female Athlete Triad Syndrome Can be a Dangerous Health Issue
Article Contributed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN of Eating Disorder Hope.
Female athletes of all ages face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining their health and well being. While participation in exercise can be beneficial in both the long and short term, female athletes who are extreme in their sports competition may be subject to worsening health consequences.
What is Female Athlete Triad Syndrome?
The Female Athlete Triad is a combination of three conditions that are connected with athletic training:
- Amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation)
- Osteoporosis (disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to fracture)
- Disordered eating 
This condition is commonly seen in female athletes participating in sports that stress low body weight or leanness, such as:
- Figure skating
- Long-distance running
Additionally, female athletes may be more susceptible to developing the athlete triad syndrome with increased pressures to perform at a certain standard or who are subject to over-emphasis on weight, such as with regular weigh-ins.
Risk factors such as these can increase the chances that a woman may develop the female athlete triad, and because of the lifelong health issues that result from this illness, greater awareness is needed.
What Are the Symptoms of Female Athlete Triad?
Parents, coaches, and mentors alike can be particularly influential in the lives of the athletes with whom they are involved. Being able to recognize the symptoms of the female athlete triad is crucial for early treatment and for prevention of fatal consequences. The following are key symptoms to be aware of in female athletes with the triad syndrome:
- Constantly feeling fatigued, lethargic
- Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Frequent restriction of food intake
- Weight loss
- Frequent injuries, such as muscle strains or stress factures
- Sensitivity to cold
- Preoccupation with food and weight
If the female athlete triad is suspected, it is important that appropriate treatment be sought to prevent worsening symptoms and to ensure healing takes place. This would include a multidisciplinary approach that involves the care of a physician, dietitian, and mental health provider.
Treatment may include nutritional counseling, pharmacologic involvement, and medical management by a physician. Appropriate interventions can prevent irreversible bone mass loss, promote the resumption of normal menstruation and prevent fatality from eating disorders.
As women today have greater opportunities to participate and compete in various sports, it is essential to understand the physical, emotional, and mental challenges they may face in their athletic journey. Being aware of the female athlete triad and associated risks and symptoms can be helpful to parents, coaches and mentors alike who participate in these athletes’ lives.
Education Is Key
Increased awareness can lead to prevention of damaging consequences and promote a healthy relationship with exercise and sports.
- Hobart JA, Smucker DR. The female athlete triad. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jun 1; 61 (11): 3357-64, 3367.
- De Souza, Mary Jand. “The Female Athlete Triad”. Powerbar. Accessed 10 September 2013.