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Everything You Need to Know About the Female Athlete Triad

Exercise, such as involvement in sports, is usually very healthy for women of all ages. In some cases, however, it leads to eating problems that cause issues both on and off the field. 

Competition is very intense, and some girls or women get so caught up in it that they neglect proper nutrition and eating habits. This is a dangerous combination leading to what’s known as the female athlete triad.

At Peninsula Orthopedic Associates, our team knows how important healthy competition is in your life. However, our team aims to help you or your child participate in sports and exercise the right way, to avoid complications down the road. 

Our board-certified team of orthopedic surgeons helps you to understand the dangers of not eating properly while training or participating in a sport.

What is the female athlete triad?

Sports and exercise are very important parts of your life, and they’re optimized by proper nutrition and sleep. However, sometimes young girls get so caught up in the sport that they begin unhealthy habits, such as undereating or overexercising. This can lead to a very dangerous condition known as the female athlete triad.

The female athlete triad is a combination of three disorders that affect your body if you become too extreme in your exercise and eating routine. The three disorders that make up the triad are:

1. Low bone density

Both menstrual dysfunction and eating problems could lead to weakened bones. This increases your chances of broken bones, and eventually could even lead to early osteoporosis. Without a monthly period and proper nutrition, your bones aren’t able to properly heal themselves, leading to problems down the road.

2. Disordered eating

This involves both your eating habits and exercise routine. You could be constantly trying unhealthy diets or simply not eating enough to support your exercise habits. 

You also could be binge eating and purging, leading to even more problems. Excessive exercise is also included in this disorder, as your eating habits rarely support the energy needed to work out.

3. Menstrual dysfunction

When your period stops or is very irregular, it could be due to improper nutrition or the high stress of overexercising. Without the normal amount of calories, this part of your body’s natural function is shut down, because your body needs the limited calories for other vital functions. 

You don’t need all three disorders to be diagnosed with the triad. You only have to meet the criteria of one of these conditions, because many times one condition leads to the others if not treated promptly.

Any female athlete could be at risk for this, especially those where size and weight matter, like gymnastics or figure skating.  Ballet is another example of a sport that could lead to disordered eating to look the part. 

There are some things that can signal a problem, and knowing what to look for could save your life.

Beware of these symptoms

The symptoms in someone who is dealing with the female athlete triad have to do with each component of the disorder. For example, with disordered eating, you may notice weight loss and extreme fatigue from extremely low caloric intake. Other symptoms include:

The pressure you put on yourself to not only look good but perform at your sport also leads to problems like depression and anxiety. If not treated, the parts of the female athlete triad also lead to cardiovascular problems, like low blood pressure and chest pain.

Treatment can help

Once you’ve recognized the problem, our team at Peninsula Orthopedic Associates can help. Treatment focuses on rebuilding proper nutrition, along with proper athletic training. 

However, it requires a multidisciplinary approach — meaning our doctors work with counselors, nutritionists, and trainers to help get you or your child back on track.

The main goal of treatment is to help you regain your strength with proper eating habits. Other ways our team helps you include:

Talking to a counselor helps you to understand why you feel so much pressure to succeed, causing you to take on unhealthy habits. Our doctors treat the aftermath of the problems with bone density that could have caused you to break a bone, for example. With treatment, the outlook is good for you or your child to overcome this disorder.

If you think you or your child is suffering from the female athlete triad, please contact our clinic at 455 Hickey Blvd., Suite 205, in Daly City at 650-746-3299.

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