Understanding Female Athlete Triad Syndrome

Sports can be so competitive. Many athletes go to extreme ways to get that perfect body, the image sports judges appreciate.  Do you wonder why a lot of female gymnasts, for instance, have smaller to even flat chests even for 16-year-olds? 

Although there may be a chosen few who are "blessed" to have a body of a gymnast, some girls who have developed breasts would exert more effort to lose body fat up to the point that it is not healthy anymore. 

Such tedious and obsessive approach to fitness among women has developed a series of symptoms health experts have called the Female Athlete Triad Syndrome.

History

More and more women participate in organized sports over the decades.  In the United States, the passing of the Educational Assistance Act of 1972, which entitled school to provide equal athletic opportunities and funding to girls, has sparked an increase of female athlete participation by as much as 600%. 

The health benefits seen in women are significant, with thinner bodies and toned muscles.  However, this has also brought several medical disorders associated with obsessive behavior to become thin.  These have led the American College of Sports Medicine to create the term "female athlete triad" in 1992.

Sign and symptoms

The female athlete triad syndrome is a disorder involving three conditions, which health experts associate with the consequences of calorie restriction and over-exercising: eating disorders, lack of menstruation or secondary amenorrhea, and osteoporosis or the thinning of bones.

Aside form the main disorders, females suffering from this disorder may also have psychological problems like low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.  Patients may also exhibit emotional problems such as mood changes or a decreased ability to concentrate. 

Other physical signs of the female athlete triad include dry skin, hair loss, increased rate of injury with slow healing times, and stress fractures.

Meanwhile, long-term effects include nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalance, as well as growth and mental impairment.  Patients can also suffer from loss of reproductive function, dehydration, and starvation.

Treatment

Like any other eating disorder, women who exhibit symptoms of female athlete triad should be treated with extreme care and immediacy.  Help in the form of intervention by a doctor, behavior therapist, and or dietician is essential.

The first aim in treating this syndrome is to reduce energy spent while increasing the amount of energy available.  The intensity of exercise is reduced, dietary restrictions are lifted, estrogen replacement therapy is prescribed to adult women, and a daily calcium intake of 1200 to 1500 milligrams a day is provided.  Meanwhile, resistance training is enforced to strengthen skeletal muscles while protecting against soft tissue injury.

A group of health care experts should come together in treating the patient.  A physician treats her amenorrhea and bone mineral density loss, a registered dietitian helps with her disordered eating, and a mental health practitioner treats her feelings and mindset associated with eating disorders.  All of them work alongside athletic trainers, coaches, parents, and other family members.