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Anorexia Complications

Topic Overview

Almost half of people who have anorexia nervosa will eventually develop symptoms (binge-purge behaviors) of another eating disorder called bulimia nervosa.1

Long-term or severe anorexia also can cause serious medical complications, such as:2

  • Osteoporosis, which results from a lack of calcium in the diet as well as too much cortisol and too little estrogen in the body. The teenage years are critical bone-building years.
  • Joint injuries, from too much exercise.
  • Fractures, which are common in female athletes who have an eating disorder and also have osteoporosis and irregular menstrual cycles (known as the female athlete triad).
  • Anemia.
  • Kidney function problems, often caused by ongoing dehydration or abuse of laxatives.
  • Heart problems, such as a slow or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and low blood pressure (hypotension).
  • Cavities or tooth decay.

If left untreated, many of these conditions can lead to death. Up to 8 out of 100 people who have anorexia will eventually die from complications of malnutrition or from suicide.3 But restoring healthy eating habits and good nutrition may reverse many of the complications of anorexia.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Agras WS (2008). The eating disorders. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine, section 13, chap. 9. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
  2. Sigel EJ (2011). Eating disorders. In WW Hay et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 20th ed., pp. 159–170. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  3. Franko DL, et al. (2013). A longitudinal investigation of mortality in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry. Published online August 1, 2013 (doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12070868).

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Current as of August 27, 2013

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