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Eating Disorders and Life-Threatening Complications

Eating disorders are serious illnesses accompanied by life-threatening physical and mental health complications. The health risks of eating disorders affect nearly every organ and system in the body, leading to an increased mortality rate. Thankfully, many eating disorder complications are reversible, but it is vital to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Physical Health Risks

For children, adolescents and young adults, the health risks of eating disorders can be very serious or even fatal, and include:

  • Malnutrition or developmental delays
  • Serious organ damage
  • Joint issues or muscle weakness
  • Constipation or irregular bowel movements
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Infertility
  • Death

Tragically, a person dies every 52 minutes from an eating disorder in the U.S. [1]

[1] Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020.

Mental Health Risks

An eating disorder may start out as an attempt to lose weight. As the eating disorder behaviors continue, people with eating disorders may notice their mental health symptoms worsening. Mental health concerns affecting people with eating disorders include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Perfectionism
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Self-harm behaviors (cutting)

Health Risks of Specific Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can cause both long- and short-term complications, depending on the type of eating disorder, how frequent the eating disorder behaviors occur, and the length of time that a person has been living with the eating disorder.

Health Risks of Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia often turn to extreme measures to lose weight. These weight loss behaviors can cause significant health problems, including:

  • Gastrointestinal issues (nausea, stomach pain, bloating)
  • Hair thinning or hair loss
  • Bradycardia
  • Bone health issues including osteopenia, fractures and osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Cold intolerance
  • Extreme exhaustion

Additionally, people with anorexia are at an increased risk of dying due to the risks of these serious medical complications and from high rates of suicidality.

Health Risks of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia symptoms of bingeing (eating a large quantity of food in a short time, followed by feelings of distress) and purging (self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives, etc.) can lead to a host of medical complications, including:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Esophageal irritation, erosions, ulcers, bleeding and rupture
  • Pain with swallowing or trouble swallowing
  • Coughing or frequent sore throats
  • Dental issues
  • Cardiac issues
  • Fertility problems

Health Risks of Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder, which involves frequent episodes of overeating marked by distress and lack of control, is associated with a number of serious medical complications, including:

  • Weight gain
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Type II diabetes mellitus
  • Feelings of embarrassment, guilt or shame
  • Worsening anxiety and depression
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Eating disorders are extremely serious illnesses that come with a number of dangerous medical complications. If you are concerned because you or someone you love might have an eating disorder, we want you to know that eating disorder treatment can help to prevent a number of serious health risks from occurring. Treatment may also reverse existing complications. To learn more about treatment for eating disorders, please call us at 877-825-8584 to schedule a free confidential consultation with an Eating Recovery Center Masters-level clinician.

Eating Recovery Center is accredited through the Joint Commission. This organization seeks to enhance the lives of the persons served in healthcare settings through a consultative accreditation process emphasizing quality, value and optimal outcomes of services.

Organizations that earn the Gold Seal of Approval™ have met or exceeded The Joint Commission’s rigorous performance standards to obtain this distinctive and internationally recognized accreditation. Learn more about this accreditation here.

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