Anorexia can medically impact someone in big ways. Here’s a summary of the medical complications of anorexia and what makes it one of the deadliest illnesses around.
8 Medical Complications of Anorexia
Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest mental illnesses . Anorexia not only leads to significant emotional pain, but also is known to cause serious medical problems . This is what makes the disorder so dangerous and potentially deadly.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized severe food restriction that causes dangerous weight loss. People with anorexia limit how much food they have out of a crippling fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. Sometimes people with anorexia may use other disordered behaviors to lose weight, such as compulsive exercise, purging, or laxatives.
Despite how much weight they may lose, people with anorexia do not stop these behaviors. In fact, they may not even be aware that these behaviors are a problem. This can prevent someone from getting treatment.
Considering that the amount of people diagnosed with anorexia has continued to increase within the last 50 years, this is concerning . There’s a lot of people out there who may be at risk of dying because of this condition.
What are the Medical Complications of Anorexia? Here’s 8!
People with anorexia are 10 to 12 times more likely to die than people without anorexia . This is because of the impact this disorder has on the body. Anorexia is well-known among the medical community to be very dangerous. This is because this disorder effects basically every major organ system and can cause other issues, like high blood pressure .
Here’s a breakdown of how anorexia affects 8 different organ systems:
Anorexia can impact the heart and blood vessels in a few different ways . One of the most common ways is that people may develop an abnormally low heart rate or blood pressure. This can lead to serious medical problems, including heart failure or sudden death due to irregular heartbeats .
Anorexia can have a big impact on someone’s skin. Lanugo is a fine hair that coats the body, particularly the face and back. Lanugo develops when someone has lost so much weight that their body is struggling to keep itself at a safe temperature . Other skin concerns may include bruising easily, ulcers, or cold intolerance .
Significant weight loss can negatively impact someone’s digestive system . In fact, people with anorexia may struggle with a few digestive issues. One of most common digestive concerns stemming from anorexic behaviors is constipation . Constipation can come from simply not having enough food to digest or from the colon slowing down . This can cause pain and bloating.
Another possible side effect of anorexia is delayed gastric emptying. This means that someone’s stomach may slow down the emptying process. This can lead to pain, but can also cause intestinal holes or death .
The endocrine system manages someone’s hormones and metabolism. Anorexia impacts the endocrine system in a few different ways. For female-bodied people, anorexic behaviors can lead to losing a menstrual period . This is called amenorrhea and it happens in about 50-75% of people with anorexia .
Amenorrhea is caused by hormonal changes. This can later lead to difficulty conceiving or having a healthy pregnancy . However, it’s not just female-bodied people that experience hormonal changes as a result of anorexia . Both males and females can experience stunted growth, delayed puberty, slowed metabolism, and bone loss .
For people who experience a menstrual period, the loss of it is sometimes the signal to loved ones and medical professionals that there is a severe problem. However, for males and for other people who don’t menstruate, this red flag isn’t there. This can lead to the disorder going on longer and can lower sex drive and changes in the testicles .
Anorexia can also impact someone’s blood! This can manifest as anemia or leukopenia . These two conditions result from not having enough red or white blood cells. Other hematologic changes can impact bone marrow .
Significant weight loss can cause the brain to permanently shrink. This can make it difficult to think logically or concentrate . This may be surprising since many people with anorexia excel in school or work, but eventually this fades away . In fact, the changes to the brain can be so significant that a brain impacted by anorexia doesn’t look much different than someone with Alzheimer’s !
Anorexia can impact bone health. As mentioned earlier, severe weight loss can lead to bone loss . This can turn into osteoporosis or overall reduced strength. Medical professionals have found this is partially due to lower levels of testosterone .
The pulmonary system controls the lungs. People with anorexia can have a difficult time breathing. Some people can even develop emphysema. Emphysema is a lung condition that makes it difficult to breathe and can’t be cured .
Sometimes learning about the medical consequences of an eating disorder can feel like a scare tactic. That is certainly not the intention of this article. The medical impacts discussed certainly are scary, but this post is meant to inform.
Everyone should be aware of the impact of anorexia on their body. If you or someone you love is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Help is available and you are worthy of it.
Resources: National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics & research on eating disorders. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders  Mehler, P.S., & Brown, C. (2015). Anorexia nervosa- medical complications. Journal of eating disorders, 3(11), 1-8.
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published June 2, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 2, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC