Consequence of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders have a higher death rate than any other psychiatric disorder (including depression and schizophrenia).

The Eating Disorders Association estimate that the incidence of eating disorders in the UK is approximately 165,000 with is an approximate 10% mortality rate. These deaths tend to be due to organ failure or suicide.

How serious the consequences are depends greatly upon how early an eating disorder is identified and treated. With help, the effects of an eating disorder can be treated; however, if an eating disorder is left untreated for years, some of the effects are irreversible and life-threatening.

When an eating disorder is successfully treated, the body can heal and return to normal. Sometimes, however, the eating disorder has continued for so many years that there is too much damage for a full recovery to occur. A person may have to live with a weak heart or kidney for the rest of her life. A woman may be unable to conceive because her reproductive system cannot function properly. Also a person may have to live with osteoporosis.

Effects of Anorexia Nervosa

Starvation: Starvation can have very serious effects on all major body systems and organs. The basic metabolic response to starvation is to conserve body tissues and energy. However, the body will also start to use its own tissue, including muscle and organs, for energy since the body has no food to use instead, The liver and intestines
typically lose the highest percentage of their own weight during starvation, followed by the heart and kidneys which both lose a moderate amount of weight. This often causes permanent damage to the organs in the process. Because someone's heart size may be reduced, they will experience low blood pressure and a slowed pulse. It cans also lead to cardiac arrest or kidney failure. Total starvation is usually fatal in 8 to 12 weeks.

Dehydration: the healthy functioning of cells and tissues is dependent upon a certain level of water content in the body. Also, salt and other minerals need to be kept within a narrow range. In a person who has become dehydrated, it's possible they are suffering from a depletion in salt as well as water. Long-term dehydration can
ultimately lead to kidney failure.

Muscle and cartilage: Over-exercise can put a huge strain on muscles and cartilage, particularly if the exercise is concentrated on one area for long periods of time.

Bones: Osteoporosis is a loss of protein matrix tissue (density) from bones, leaving them brittle and susceptible to fracture. Although it is a natural part of the aging process, the chances of developing osteoporosis later in life are significantly increased for anorectics, due to hormone changes. Bones may also stop growing, which causes stunted growth in younger anorectics.

Irregular or abnormally slow heart rate: An irregular or slow heart rate can mean that the heart muscle is undergoing changes. This is likely to lead to low blood pressure and, the lower blood pressure and heart rate goes, the greater the risk of heart failure.

Heart failure: The heart muscle is extremely sensitive and can become thin and flabby from nutritional deficiency. A lack of calories and protein can have a negative effect on the heart, and body chemical may become so imbalanced that heart failure occurs.

Sexual function: the body does not have enough fat to produce oestrogen in females, which will cause amenorrhea (cessation of periods) and infertility, and testosterone in men, resulting in low sex drive.

Lanugo growth: lanugo (fine hair) grows all over the body to keep it warm, compensating for the lack of insulating fat in the body.

Hyperactivity: The body relies on adrenaline (a hormone that is normally released during times of stress and fear) instead of food for energy. This causes excitability.

Effects of Bulimia Nervosa

The frequent purging that occurs with bulimia does serious damage to the body.

Self-induced vomiting:

  • Damages the digestive system: it can cause a peptic ulcer which is an area of the stomach or duodenal lining which becomes eroded by stomach acid. These are known as peptic ulcers. The symptoms can vary, with some people not noticing anything out of the ordinary but others may vomit blood and experience abdomen or chest pains. The pain is usually increased when the individual eats or drinks. Peptic ulcers can be serious and need immediate attention if you are vomiting blood or passing digested blood in your stools.
  • Damages the oesophagus (throat), since stomach acid irritates the oesophagus, which can cause inflammation and raw areas, sometimes making swallowing painful. Of greater concern is a rupture of the oesophagus, because this can be fatal in some cases. A Mallory-Weiss tear is the technical term for the rupture or tearing of the mucous membrane of the oesophagus at its junction with the stomach. It is caused by repeated vomiting and the person will have bright red blood in their vomit. You should always consult your doctor if you are vomiting blood.
  • Brings stomach acids into the mouth, causing the tooth enamel to wear away, and tooth decay to occur, giving the teeth a ragged appearance and cavities. Eventually all teeth may need extraction. If you are bulimic, it is recommended that you do NOT brush your teeth straight after vomiting. Instead you should drink water, as this will be gentler on your teeth and help replenish lost fluids.
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Stomach cramps and difficulty in swallowing
  • Dehydration: The healthy functioning of cells and tissues is dependent upon a certain level of water content in the body. Also, salt and other minerals need to be kept within a narrow range. In a person who has become dehydrated, it's possible they are suffering from a depletion in salt as well as water. Long term dehydration can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Amongst bulimics, dehydration usually occurs because the stomach is being emptied of its gastric fluids.
  • Abuse of laxatives and diuretics:

  • Causes constipation, sicne the body can no longer produce a bowel movement on its own
  • Bloating, water retention, and oedema (swelling) of the stomach.
  • Because the body is constantly being denied the nutrients and fluids it needs to survive, the kidneys and heart will also suffer. Specifically, a lack of potassium will result in cardiac abnormalities and possible kidney failure, which can also result in death.
  • Effects of binge-eating

    The phsical effects of binge eating are not as severe as with anorexia and bulimia, since the body is not denied food or put through purges. However this is not to say that there are not still serious consequences.

    The obesity suffered by many binge eaters can cause complications such as diabetes type II, or heart problems.

    High blood pressure: overweight people between the ages of 20-45 have a six times higher incidence of hypertension than do peers who are normal weight. The risk appears to be even greater for older obese people.

    Diabetes: even moderate obesity, especially when the extra fat is carried in the stomach and abdomen (instead of hips and thighs), increases the risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.

    Osteoarthritis: arthritis can occur in obese individuals because of the extra strain being placed on the joints by the weight of the person.

    Heart attack: high blood pressure and cholesterol dramatically increase the chances of having a stroke or heart attack.

    Yo-yo dieting can cause hypertension, and long-term damage to major organs, such as the kidney, liver, heart, and muscles.


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