Health Consequences of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not just a “fad or a “phase” They are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person’s emotional and physical health.

Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa

In anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in serious medical consequences.

  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which mean that the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
  • Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
  • Muscle loss and weakness.
  • Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
  • Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
  • Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common
  • Growth of a downy layer of hair called lanugo all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.

Health Consequences of Bulimia Nervosa

The recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions.

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium, sodium and chloride from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

Health Consequences of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder often results in many of the same health risks associated with clinical obesity.

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease as a result of elevated triglyceride levels.
  • Type II diabetes mellitus
  • Gallbladder disease.
Source: Adapted from National Eating Disorder Association, 2006: www.NationalEatingDisorders.org.