Athletes and physically active women are at a great risk for developing health complications with aging. While we often hear that physical activity and fitness are important for reducing the risks and effects of aging, the fact is, many athletic women still suffer from age related complications and can even experience these risks in direct response to their athletic performance in high school or early adulthood.
Medically termed the Female Triad, women athletes commonly suffer from a triple blow of health complications into aging; irregular eating patterns and disorders which lead to amenorrhea which leads to early onset of osteoarthritis. From high school athletes, to college athletes to women who are athletic and physically active into adulthood, there is great risk for suffering from aging complications, prematurely.
If you are the parent of a female athlete, it is important to understand what the Female Triad is and how to recognize the complications associated with it. Specifically, the complications associated with the Female Triad generally begin with an eating disorder, as evidenced by anorexia, binge eating or bulimia. While the athletic female may not meet the mental health guidelines for being diagnosed with these eating disorders, the symptoms of the disorder may still be present.
When abnormal eating habits develop, female athletes may then develop complications associated with menstrual cycles. When some form of amenorrhea is expected with athletic women, when the female athlete suddenly shows an absence in menstruation, for longer than six months, this may be indicative of a secondary complication associated with not only fitness but also to the poor eating habits.
Without proper intervention, the development of secondary amenorrhea, in response to poor diet, will then turn to the development of early osteoporosis and place the female athlete into a greater risk for fitness or activity induced fractures.
If you believe your daughter, sister, mother or best friend is suffering from the Female Triad, it is important to encourage her to seek out medical attention. While fitness and exercise will continue to be part of her daily routine, with proper health screening and treatment, she can learn to eat and exercise in balance thereby, ultimately, reducing the risk for developing a loss of bone mineral density which is life altering and irreversible. Without early intervention or treatment, hormone replacement therapy may be required, boosts in vitamins and nutrients, of significant levels, may be required and even the use of antidepressants and mental health services may be needed.
As we are encouraged to exercise regularly, there are those women, especially high school and college athletes, who strive for competiveness at any cost. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the complications associated with the Female Triad, discuss these issues and concerns with a healthcare professional, and fitness coaches, immediately so as to obtain the proper treatment to prevent life long health complication with aging.