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Girl with sore foot isolated on whiteBecause every once in a while, we need to take things seriously. Health Talk Tuesday will address pressing issues regarding the health of the female athletes, weekend warrior, fitness enthusiast and even the fitness newbies.

The female athlete triad is often one of the most overlooked issues facing today’s female athletes. This triad can create acute and chronic health problems.

With increased female participation in sports, sports medicine health care providers are becoming more aware of the unique health concerns facing today’s female athletes. While females who participate in athletics are at a lower risk for teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, and depression, and have a more positive self-esteem, special consideration needs to be taken when it comes to dealing with the unique psychological and behavioral responses of these athletes.

One of the most common concerns facing today’s sports medicine provider are three conditions – disorder eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. Often termed the female athlete triad, these conditions are three separate entities, but are intricately related and combined can prove to have a negative impact on the health a female athletes.

The three components of the female athlete triad are as follows:

  • Disorder Eating. Many female athletes feel that weight loss will help improve their athletic performance. By cutting out all the so-called “bad” foods and not eating properly, female athletes are putting themselves at risk for more serious diseases including bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
  • Amenorrhea. Intense exercise regimens and lack of calorie intake can lead to decreases in estrogen. Estrogen is the hormone that aids in the regulation of the menstrual cycle. An athlete may experience irregular or a complete stop to their menstrual cycles.
  • Osteoporosis. Female athletes with the triad are placing themselves at higher risk for lower bone mass. A decrease in bone mass is often related to low estrogen levels and poor nutrition. Lower bone mass leads to weakened bones. In its most severe form, an athlete will be considered to have osteoporosis. Bone mass loss also leads to an increase in fractures, as well as stress fractures. Fractures can lead to career ending injuries.

The pressure placed on female athletes can be intense. Low self-esteem, the need to be perfect, and stress from family, friends, and coaches are placing today’s female athlete at risk for the triad.

Female athletes who exhibit warning signs should consult with a physician as soon as possible.

Warning Signs of the Female Athlete Triad

Weight loss, no periods, fatigue, lack of ability to concentrate, stress fractures, muscle injuries, constant dieting, frequent trips to the restroom, preoccupation with food and weight, use of laxatives, dental cavities, brittle hair/nails, sensitive to cold, low heart rate, low blood pressure, and chest pain are all signs of the female athlete triad.

After a definitive diagnosis is made, it is a group effort to aid in the recovery of the athlete. Doctors, coaches, parents, physical therapists, adolescent medicine specialists, dietitians, and mental health specialists will all work together to aid in the physical and emotional recovery of the female triad athlete faces.

Female athletes need to remember to eat a healthy diet, keep track of their menstrual cycles, and most importantly – shouldn’t ‘t let a sport that used to be fun turn into an activity they dread.

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