The female athlete triad is a menstrual condition that affects almost 60% of all female athletes. 60% is an alarmingly high percentage! Some people think it’s harmless, but the female athlete triad can actually become very harmful to one’s overall health if left to worsen.
So what are the symptoms?
The most common symptom is missed periods for a prolonged period of time. The technical term for this is Amenorrhea, which is an abnormal absence of menstruation for at least 6 months. This is usually accompanied by weight loss, disordered eating and a daily lifestyle of intense training and exercise.
Periods stop when the body weight drops to unhealthy levels and doesn’t get enough nutrients, and a tell-tale sign of insufficient nutrients is when a woman experiences very light periods, or only gets her period every 2-3 months. A healthy weight is also important to maintain healthy levels of estrogen to absorb calcium for healthy bones.
This leads us to the second symptom, low bone mass. Because the body is unable to absorb calcium efficiently, the bones become weaker.
Exercising is supposed to strengthen bones, but excessive exercising can be harmful and cause problems when combined together with low nutrients, low levels of estrogen, low body weight and low calcium intake. One painful consequence of low bone mass is stress fractures– a very small crack in the bone where an activity is done over and over again. For example, a runner may get a stress fracture anywhere along the foot to hips.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you experience any of the above symptoms, go to your health provider! If your doctor suspects that you suffer from low bone mass, you may go for a test called a DXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan to measure bone density. Two x-ray beams of different energy levels are directed at your bones, and the amount of energy absorbed indicates bone density. A DXA scan is painless, safe and requires very little preparation.
Getting back on track to health is a process that requires lifestyle adjustments as well. Working together with the doctor, these adjustments could include:
Exercising less, or adjusting exercising regiments
Eating the correct nutrients and calories
Eating more to gain weight
These could be very simple solutions but they require discipline to be adhered to daily. The doctor and nutritionist will work together with you to work out the solution that is best fitted for your symptoms and lifestyle.
Female athlete triad is totally avoidable if you take good care of your health constantly.
Know if you are at risk for Female Athlete Triad: Athletes in competitive sports professions, practising endurance sports (e.g. long distance running) or sports that require a thin appearance (e.g. gymnastics).
If you miss your period for more than 2 months, quickly visit the doctor to come up with preventive measures. Keep track of your periods so you know when you’ve missed a few cycles, especially when you’re too caught up with training!
Give your body enough nutrition and fuel, especially during competition seasons. Eat enough vitamins, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and calcium. Working it out together with a nutritionist will be a great help.
Talk to somebody if you are facing pressures or developing an eating disorder. This is definitely easier said than done, but you need to get the medical and emotional help that you need to keep healthy and in tip-top shape to be continuing your love for sports.
One missed period may not be a big deal, but any more than that should be a cause for concern. Especially for athletes, where physical health makes all the difference in your training and career! So don’t ignore the missed period, especially if you also experience other symptoms. It might be the Female Athlete Triad, and as with any illness, the earlier you deal with it, the faster it recovers.