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Female Athlete Triad

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is the female athlete triad?

The female athlete triad is a combination of 3 health problems. These health problems include disordered eating, loss of monthly period, and low bone density. The condition occurs when a female athlete does intense training or exercise and has a strict diet.

What increases my risk for the female athlete triad?

  • Not eating enough, fasting for long periods of time, following a strict diet
  • An eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Pressure from coaches or parents to be thin or lose weight
  • Lack of social support because your training schedule keeps you from your friends or family
  • Conditions including anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder

What are the signs and symptoms of the female athlete triad?

  • Irregular or no monthly periods
  • Dry, cracked skin, and thinning hair
  • Large amount of weight loss
  • Scars or callouses on your hands or knuckles caused by forcing yourself to throw up
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Frequent injuries such as stress fractures
  • Trouble concentrating or mood changes

How is the female athlete triad diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your eating behavior, weight changes, exercise habits, monthly periods, and injuries. He or she may ask how you feel about yourself and about the way you look. You may also need the following:

  • Blood and urine tests may show low amount of hormones or electrolytes in your body.
  • A bone density scan will show if you have weak or thinning bones.

  • An EKG will show your heart rhythm.

How is the female athlete triad treated?

  • A dietitian can help you with a meal plan and proper nutrition. He or she can discuss healthy eating habits and how to help you balance food and your sport. You may need to take extra vitamins or minerals.
  • Medicines may be needed to make your bones stronger, treat an abnormal heartbeat, or treat depression.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will help you identify any negative feelings and behaviors about food and your weight. You and a therapist work together to learn the reasons you are unhappy with your body.
  • Talk therapy is a type of counseling that is usually done in a series of meetings or talks. You, your family members, coaches, teammates, or people who are close to you may also attend.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I prevent the female athlete triad?

  • Ask for help at any time. Talk to your coach, trainers, friends, or family if you have problems with your health.
  • Try not to compare yourself to others. Focus on your own ideal body weight and sports performance. Try to choose friends or role models with healthy body images and eating habits. Coaches, trainers, teammates, and family members should not pressure you to diet and lose weight.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods may help you feel better and have more energy. Eat foods that are high in calcium, iron, and protein. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Protein and iron are found in chicken, fish, meat, and beans. Include fruit, colorful vegetables, and whole grains. Do not skip meals and snacks.
    Healthy Foods
  • Monitor your weight and monthly period. You or a healthcare provider may need to check your weight regularly. Keep track of your menstrual periods so that you can check the number of days between cycles.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) or have someone call if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.
  • You feel like hurting yourself.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You feel you cannot cope at home, work, or school.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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