What is the Most Serious Health Risk from Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervousa

Anorexia nervosa is one of the deadliest mental illnesses. This is because of the impact it can have on the body. There’s a wide range of physical consequences that can come from severe food restriction, but some are more serious than others. This post will go over these risks. But first, we’ll go over what anorexia is.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by severe food restriction that leads to malnourishment and drastic weight loss. Someone with anorexia limits how much food they eat because they are very afraid of gaining weight or becoming fat.

The difficult thing about anorexia is that even though they are underweight, they may still view themselves as being in a bigger body when they look in the mirror. The fear of gaining weight or being fat is very upsetting. An individual with anorexia may also be in denial about how serious their weight loss is.

Anorexia Facts & Statistics

  • 1 in 5 deaths in anorexia patients are due to suicide
  • There’s about 2600 deaths per year due to anorexia
  • About 33-50% of people with anorexia have a co-occurring mental health disorder, like depression or anxiety
  • Anorexia can impact anyone, regardless of age or gender. However, anorexia is more common in adolescent and college-aged females compared to other groups of people [1]

Anorexia & Long-Term Health Risks

There are a few long-term health consequences that can come as a result of prolonged malnourishment. The most serious risk of anorexia is death. In fact, about 10% of people with anorexia will die because of their eating disorder [2].

Like we said, anorexia is one of the deadliest mental illnesses. People with anorexia who have died tend to pass away due to starvation, heart problems, or suicide [2].

Other possible long-term health issues include osteoporosis, infertility, and seizures. This section will go over why anorexia leads to these conditions.

Osteoporosis & Disordered Eating

Osteoporosis is a medical condition that results from having low bone-mass [2]. Anorexia can cause this to happen because without the proper amount of nutrition, the body will not produce the growth hormones necessary to build bone mass. This can make some more at risk for fractures and other bone injuries.

Infertility

The female body needs enough nutrition in order to make hormones. Without this, someone may not be able to conceive. In fact, 7.6% of infertility patients struggle from disordered eating [3].

While some people who’ve had anorexia can recover and start having normal reproductive function, some people with severe anorexia may completely lose their ability to conceive [2].

Seizures

Anorexia can lead to seizures. Seizures happen when there is an excess amount of electrical activity in the brain. Seizures are dangerous because they can cause a loss of consciousness or place someone at increased risk for injury during the seizure [2,4].

Group Counseling

Eating Disorder Treatment

It’s important to get treatment for anorexia. Remember that even though anorexia has medical consequences, it’s a mental illness. This means that treatment for this eating disorder requires support from a medical professional, mental health clinician, and nutritionist.

Treatment for anorexia will depend on how severe it is. Some people with this disorder need to be hospitalized and tube fed. This may be necessary in order to get nutrients into someone’s system. Other treatment options include residential treatment, intensive day programs, and outpatient treatment.

It can be scary to reach out for help. The fear of letting go of your eating disorder can keep you stuck. That’s valid and makes sense. What we can tell you is that even though it’s scary, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice.

Even if it feels like the disorder is helping you in someway, if you read between the lines you’re likely to see how the disorder is also hurting you. It doesn’t get to be the boss of you. Recovery from an eating disorder isn’t an easy process, but on the other side of it there’s more peace, freedom, and happiness.

It can also be scary if you’re the loved one of someone with this disorder. It’s important to get help and support for yourself, too. It’s okay to admit that this is scary, stressful, overwhelming, and at times, a bit maddening. Getting help for you and your loved one is an important part of the recovery process.


Resources:

[1] Eating Recovery Center. (n.d) Anorexia Facts & Statistics. Retrieved November 10th, 2021 from https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/conditions/anorexia/facts-statistics

[2] Eating Recovery Center. (n.d) Anorexia Health Risks & Consequences. Retrieved November 10th, 2021 from https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/conditions/anorexia/health-risks

[3] Stewart, D. E., Robinson, E., Goldbloom, D. S., & Wright, C. (1990). Infertility and eating disorders. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 163(4 Pt 1), 1196–1199. https://doi.org/10.1016/0002-9378(90)90688-4

[4] Schachter, S. C. (2013, July). How Serious are Seizures? Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved November 10th, 2021 from https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/how-serious-are-seizures


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 December 20th, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on December 20th, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Samantha Bothwell, LMFT

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.