An extensive physical examination is a crucial part of diagnosing female athlete triad. A doctor at A+ clinic who thinks a girl has female athlete triad will probably ask questions about her periods, her nutrition and exercise habits, any medications she takes, and her feelings about her body.
Poor nutrition can also affect the body in many ways, so doctor at A+ clinic might advise blood tests to check for anemia and other problems associated with the triad. The doctor also will check for medical reasons why a girl may be losing weight and missing her periods. Because osteoporosis can put a girl at higher risk for bone fractures, the doctor may also request tests to measure bone density.
Doctors don’t work alone to help a girl with female athlete triad. Coaches, parents, physical therapists, pediatricians and adolescent medicine specialists, nutritionists and dietitians, and mental health specialists can all work together to treat the physical and emotional problems that a girl with female athlete triad faces.
It might be tempting for a girl with female athlete triad to shrug off several months of missed periods, but getting help right away is important. In the short term, she may have muscle weakness, stress fractures, and reduced physical performance. Over the long term, she may suffer from bone weakness, long-term effects on her reproductive system, and heart problems.
A girl who is recovering from female athlete triad may work with a dietitian to help get to and maintain a healthy weight and ensure she’s eating enough calories and nutrients for health and good athletic performance. Depending on how much the girl is exercising, she may have to reduce the length of her workouts. Talking to a psychologist or therapist can help a girl deal with depression, pressure from coaches or family members, or low self-esteem and can help her find ways to deal with her problems other than restricting her food intake or exercising excessively.
Some girls with female athlete triad may need to take hormones to supply their bodies with estrogen so they can get their periods started again. In such cases, birth control pills are often used to regulate the menstrual cycle. Calcium and vitamin D supplementation is also common for a girl who has suffered bone loss as the result of female athlete triad.
A girl with female athlete triad may try to hide it, but she can’t just ignore the disorder and hope it goes away. She needs to get help from a doctor and other health professionals. If a friend, sister, or teammate has signs and symptoms of female athlete triad, discuss your concerns with her and encourage her to seek treatment. If she refuses to seek treatment, you may need to mention your concern to a parent, coach, teacher, or school nurse.
You may worry about being nosy when you ask questions about a friend’s health, but you’re not: Your concern is a sign that you’re a caring friend. Lending an ear may be just what your friend needs.
Tips for Female Athletes
Here are a few tips to help teen athletes stay on top of their physical condition:
- Keep track of your periods. keep a calendar in your gym bag and mark down when your period starts and stops and if the bleeding is particularly heavy or light. That way, if you start missing periods, you’ll know right away and you’ll have accurate information to give to your doctor.
- Don’t skip meals or snacks. Girls who are constantly on the go between school, practice, and competitions may be tempted to skip meals and snacks to save time. But eating now will improve performance later, so stock your locker or bag with quick and easy favorites such as bread, cheese, unsalted nuts and seeds, raw vegetables, and fruit.
- Visit a dietitian or nutritionist who works with teen athletes. He or she can help you get your dietary game plan into gear and determine if you’re getting enough key nutrients such as iron, calcium, and protein. And if you need supplements, a nutritionist can recommend the best choices.
- Do it for you. Pressure from teammates, parents, or coaches can turn a fun activity into a nightmare. If you’re not enjoying your sport, make a change. Remember: It’s your body and your life. You — not your coach or teammates — will have to live with any damage you do to your body now.