Purpose: The female athlete triad (Triad) is a syndrome linking low energy availability (EA) with or without disordered eating (DE), menstrual disturbances (MD), and low bone mineral density (BMD) in exercising women. The prevalence of Triad conditions (both clinical and subclinical) has not been clearly established.The purpose of this review is to evaluate the studies that determined the prevalence of clinical or subclinical Triad conditions (low EA, DE, MD, and low BMD) in exercising women and in women participating in lean (LS) versus nonlean sports (NLS) using self-report and/or objective measures.
Methods: A review of publications using MEDLINE and PubMed was completed. Randomized controlled trials and observational studies that evaluated the prevalence of clinical and subclinical Triad conditions (MD, low BMD, low EA, and DE) in exercising women were included.
Results: Sixty-five studies were identified for inclusion in this review (n = 10,498, age = 21.8 ± 3.5 yr, body mass index = 20.8 ± 2.6 kg·m; mean ± SD). A relatively small percentage of athletes (0%-15.9%) exhibited all three Triad conditions (nine studies, n = 991). The prevalence of any two or any one of the Triad conditions in these studies ranged from 2.7% to 27.0% and from 16.0% to 60.0%, respectively. The prevalence of all three Triad conditions in LS athletes versus NLS athletes ranged from 1.5% to 6.7% and from 0% to 2.0%, respectively. LS athletes demonstrated higher prevalence rates of MD and low BMD (3.3% vs 1.0%), MD and DE (6.8%-57.8% vs 5.4%-13.5%), and low BMD and DE (5.6% vs 1.0%) than the NLS athletes.
Conclusions: Although the prevalence of individual/combined Triad conditions is concerning, our review demonstrates that additional research on the prevalence of the Triad using objective and/or self-report/field measures is necessary to more accurately describe the extent of the problem.