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Minerva Pediatrica 2017 October;69(5):415-26

DOI: 10.23736/S0026-4946.17.05044-7

Copyright © 2017 EDIZIONI MINERVA MEDICA

language: English

Elite athletes and pubertal delay

Karina KAPCZUK

Division of Gynecology, Department of Perinatology and Gynecology, Poznan University of Medical Sciences, Poznan, Poland


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Intensive physical training and participation in competitive sports during childhood and early adolescence may affect athletes’ pubertal development. On the other hand, pubertal timing, early or late, may impact on an athlete selection for a particular sport. Genetic predisposition, training load, nutritional status and psychological stress determine athletes’ pubertal timing. Athletes that practice esthetic sports, especially gymnasts, are predisposed to a delay in pubertal development. The growing evidence indicates that energy deficiency, not a systemic training per se, plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of functional hypothalamic hypogonadism in female athletes. Metabolic and psychologic stress activate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and suppress hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Female athletes who do not begin secondary sexual development by the age of 14 or menstruation by the age of 16 warrant a comprehensive evaluation and a targeted treatment. Somatic growth and sexual maturation of elite female athletes are largely sport-specific since each sport favors a particular somatotype and requires a specific training. Chronic negative energy balance resulting from a systemic physical training and inadequate energy intake may delay pubertal development in elite athletes. Youth athletes, especially those engaged in competitive sports that emphasize prepubertal or lean appearance, are at risk of developing relative energy deficiency in sport associated with disordered eating or eating disorders. Management strategies should address the complex conditions underlying functional hypothalamic hypogonadism.


KEY WORDS: Athletes - Women - Puberty, delayed - Amenorrhea

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