Apr 1, 2004 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

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Sports and Women Athletes: The Female Athlete Triad

Am Fam Physician. 2004 Apr 1;69(7):1734.

What is the female athlete triad?

The female athlete triad (say: try-ad) is a health problem with three parts. The problem affects eating habits, menstrual periods, and bone strength. If you have the female athlete triad, you have stopped eating the right way. Your menstrual periods have stopped or become irregular. You also may have osteoporosis (say: oss-tee-oh-poor-oh-sis). This is a disease that makes your bones thin and weak so that they break easily. If you don't get treatment, the loss of bone strength may last forever.

What are some things that put me at risk for the female athlete triad?

Here are some risk factors for the female athlete triad:

  • Being a competitive athlete

  • Playing sports that require you to check your weight often

  • Not having time to spend with your friends because sports take up all your free time

  • Exercising more than is necessary for your sport

  • Being pushed by your coach or your parents to win at all costs

What are the signs of the female athlete triad?

Some symptoms of the female athlete triad are weight loss, no periods or irregular periods, fatigue, and bone fractures that happen without an obvious injury (these are called stress fractures).

Why should I worry about this now, while I am young?

In the female athlete triad, your menstrual periods stop because your body makes less estrogen. Normal amounts of estrogen keep your periods regular and your bones strong. If you have the female athlete triad and do not have periods for more than three or four months, it can hurt your bones so much that you can never get better.

How does my doctor find out I have the female athlete triad?

Your doctor will ask you some questions and do a physical exam. Your doctor may ask you about your periods, exercise patterns, and eating habits. Your doctor also may ask you if you take any medicines, such as birth control pills, laxatives, or diet pills.

How is the female athlete triad treated?

Your doctor will talk with you about changing the way you eat and the way you exercise. After you make only a few changes, your regular periods should come back. If not, your doctor may talk with you about taking some medicines such as birth control pills to stop your body from losing any more bone strength.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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