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What are the Health Risks of Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a serious medical condition that can affect every organ system of the body. The most serious health risk of anorexia is an increased mortality rate. Other health risks associated with anorexia are also very serious and may need treatment in order to find lasting recovery. Understanding the short-term and long-term health risks associated with anorexia is an important step in seeking treatment.

Short-Term Health Risks of Anorexia Nervosa

For someone who is experiencing signs and symptoms of anorexia, they are likely to experience both short-term and long-term effects. Short-term health risks include weight loss, gastro-intestinal complaints, fatigue, dehydration and hair loss among others. Learn more about these symptoms.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is the most common health risk associated with anorexia nervosa. Severe weight loss can set off a series of other serious health risks that can become life threatening.

Gastrointestinal complaints

Someone suffering from anorexia may experience nausea, stomach pain, bloating, vomiting, constipation and dizziness.

Fatigue

Fatigue is often seen in persons with anorexia as a result of decreased intake of food and nutritional deficiencies. After a while, this can lead to extreme exhaustion.

Hair Loss

Hair loss is another health risk of anorexia. Because someone who has anorexia isn’t getting enough nutrition, this can cause thinning of hair.

Dehydration

Individuals with anorexia may experience dehydration associated with restrictive eating– even if they are drinking water. This occurs because a large percentage of dietary water comes from food. Dehydration can become a serious health risk if not treated.

Long-Term Health Risks of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a very serious medical condition. If untreated, those who are suffering from this eating disorder may experience long-term health risks. Starting treatment right away for anorexia is essential in finding recovery and decreasing the odds of these associated health risks.

Osteoporosis

Young people who are suffering with anorexia aren’t getting adequate nutrition which could inhibit their growth hormones. Later in life, people who have had anorexia may experience osteoporosis due to having low bone mass [1].
[1] https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/anorexia-nervosa.

Seizures

Another serious long-term health risk associated with eating disorders is seizures. These can occur in bulimia patients, as well as anorexia patients and can cause loss of consciousness, incontinence and muscle spasms [2].
[2] http://glossary.feast-ed.org/3-treatment-medical-management/seizures

Anemia

People with anorexia often have a low level of red blood cells, which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and rapid heart rate, all signs of anemia.

Infertility

Because of the toll an eating disorder can take on the body, this can cause infertility in females who have experienced severe anorexia [3].
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192363/

Death

Complications from anorexia nervosa can be serious and can cause death. In fact, anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates compared to other mental health conditions, second only to opioid overdose.

Anorexia can be a Deadly Illness

Anorexia nervosa is an illness with potentially very serious psychological and medical complications. With a mortality rate of about 10% [4], anorexia deaths are due to starvation, cardiovascular complications and suicide.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), "eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose" [5]. ANAD also reports that there are more than 10,000 deaths each year associated with eating disorders.

[4] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/directors/thomas-insel/blog/2012/spotlight-on-eating-disorders
[5] https://anad.org/get-informed/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

Seek Help Before Anorexia Health Risks Become Life-Threatening

If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia, we urge you to seek help immediately. Professional help for anorexia offers individuals the best chance for a full and complete recovery.

If you or a loved one need help for an eating disorder, please call us at 877-825-8584 to schedule a free confidential consultation with an Eating Recovery Center Masters-level clinician.

Anorexia FAQ/More Information

What is anorexia nervosa?

Although research about anorexia nervosa is ongoing, there is a lot you can learn about this eating disorder to understand how to get help or help a loved one. Learn more about anorexia, including the causes, symptoms and available treatment options.

What causes anorexia?

As with other eating disorders, anorexia has no singular cause. However, the evolving scientific literature suggests that this pattern of disordered eating develops from a complex interplay between genetic, psychological and sociocultural factors.

What are the health risks associated with anorexia?

There are many health risks associated with anorexia nervosa. Learn about the short-term and long-term risks to understand the effects of this disorder.

How is anorexia treated?

Anorexia treatment is unique to each patient’s needs. Medical stabilization, psychiatric stabilization, nutritional rehabilitation and weight restoration (when appropriate) are considered when determining a patient’s treatment plan.

Learn about anorexia facts and statistics.

There are many misconceptions about anorexia, including the fact that it is simply being too thin.

Do I have anorexia? Take our Anorexia Quiz.

If you or a loved one struggle with some of the symptoms described here, it may be worth speaking with a clinician and considering treatment options.

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