Policy Point Wednesday: The Female Athlete Triad Syndrome

From www.femaleathletetriad.org

You may not have heard of the Female Athlete Triad Syndrome – I hadn’t, until just recently.  I knew, of course, that women athletes sometimes stop menstruating, but I didn’t know about the risk of bone density loss and fractures.  According to Femaleathletetriad.org, the Triad is “a syndrome of three interrelated conditions that exist on a continuum of severity, including: Energy Deficiency with or without Disordered Eating, Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea, and Bone Loss/Osteoporosis.

It sounds like something that you would know if you had, but many female athletes don’t recognize the signs.  Author Julia Burke described her diagnosis on the blog Skepchick

“I listed the last five years of my medical history in one place: arthroscopic surgery for shoulder tear. Severe fingernail breaks, one way too gnarly to recount here but requiring emergency treatment. Shin splints (ten years into running, not as a newbie). Two stress fractures in the last two years (my first and favorite one, Tibia 2011, is pictured above).”

Women with this syndrome don’t necessarily lose weight or appear thin, but tend to be more susceptible to sports injuries, as the body compensates for energy use.  Athletes can become dehydrated and lose electrolytes, causing them to feel even more tired.  The Triad can also cause iron-deficiency anemia. Many female athletes report frustration that they are training harder than ever but feel they are falling behind.

The Triad is caused by energy imbalance, which can be driven by a restricted diet or by exercise alone, or by a combination of both. Treatment involves a physician (most sports medicine physicians who deal with women are familiar with this syndrome) and a registered dietitian to correctly gauge the amount of calories needed to maintain good health. If you are athletic and are missing periods or consistently experiencing injuries, see a specialist.

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