Health Implications of Eating Disorders

Health Implications of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders significantly affect an individual and drastically hamper his/her quality of life. Physical wellbeing, relationships, self-image as well as day-to-day life get adversely affected. Eating disorders are often associated with various other disorders, such as personality disorders, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Taking into account the severity of this condition, Dr. Phil McGraw here sheds light on various health consequences of eating disorders.

Bulimia Nervosa, an eating disorder, is particularly associated with substance abuse whereas Anorexia Nervosa, another eating disorder, is associated with obsessive compulsive behaviors. These associated physical and mental issues highlight the need of immediate medical intervention and a prompt treatment.

Medical Issues Associated with Eating Disorders

People suffering from Anorexia Nervosa may sustain adverse effects on various organs. Physical symptoms may include low heart rate, constipation, skin dryness, abdominal distress, missed menstrual cycles, fine body hair, low blood pressure, among others. It might also cause cardiovascular problems, anemia, changes in brain structure, kidney dysfunction and osteoporosis.

Self-induced vomiting might lead to swelling of the salivary glands, tooth enamel erosion along with mineral and electrolyte deficiency. Long-term use of laxatives can lead to extended disruptions of bowel functioning. Serious complications include fatal irregularities of cardiac rhythm, rupturing of stomach and tearing of the esophageal wall.


Physical Dangers Associated with Eating Disorders

Physical dangers associated with eating disorders

At times, people suffering from Bulimia or Anorexia do not appear thin. In fact, they may appear just normal or overweight. Physical appearances of these people vary from being extremely underweight to being extremely obese or overweight. Unfortunately, how such a person looks from the outside might not give even the slightest of clues about the dangers associated with their condition. Also, the emotional distress they are facing may go unnoticed if they are simply judged by his/her outward appearance.

Medical Conditions Experienced by A Person with Eating Disorder

There are various medical conditions that might be experienced by people suffering from eating disorders. Let’s discuss these medical conditions that must be watched out for.

Barrett’s Esophagus: Barrett’s esophagus is caused by the esophageal reflux and is also linked with esophageal cancer. This happens due to the cellular changes within the esophagus.

Amenorrhea: Due to lack of essential nutrients and iron deficiency, women suffering from eating disorders have missed or complete loss of menstrual cycles.

Elevated Blood Sugar: They might have elevated blood sugar. Elevated blood sugar can lead to immune and circulatory system issues, and even diabetes.

Low Blood Sugar: Low blood sugar can be caused by eating disorders. It can also indicate some problem with the kidneys and liver, and may lead to mental and neurological damage.

Callused Fingers: It is caused by frequent use of fingers to vomit.

Bloating, Cramps, Diarrhea, Constipation and Incontinence: These symptoms may arise due to hampered bowel functioning.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A weakened immune system due to eating disorders causes crippling fatigue.

Dehydration: This is due to the lack of fluid in the body.

Dental Problems: Erosion of tooth enamel, decalcification of teeth and tooth decay.


Gum Diseases: Due to excessive vomiting, enzymes and stomach acids might lead to various gum diseases. Vitamin D, vitamin C deficiency and hormonal imbalance.

Depression: Depression and mood swings are caused due to hormonal imbalance, electrolyte and mineral deficiencies. Malnutrition and dehydration may further add to the problem. Living with eating disorders can lead to depression and irritability, which may again result in eating disorders, making this a vicious cycle.Stress due to job, and family or other relationships can be a cause of both eating disorders and depression. Only a few people are genetically predisposed to depression than others.

Digestive Issues: There can be a deficiency of digestive enzymes, which in turn would prevent the body from absorbing the nutrients and digesting the ingested food. This can further lead to malnutrition, malabsorption and electrolyte imbalance.

Diabetes: Malnutrition can lead to hormonal imbalances, especially reduced production of insulin. This leads to diabetes. Various other conditions like chronic pancreatitis, hormonal imbalances and hyperglycemia can also lead to diabetes.

Dry Skin/Hair, Brittle Nails/Hair or Hair Loss: Dehydration, malnutrition and hormonal imbalances can lead to dry hair or skin, brittle nails or hair and hair loss.

Death: Can be caused by any one or a combination of various health conditions, including lung collapse, heart attack or heart failure, internal bleeding, kidney failure, stroke, pancreatitis, liver failure, perforated ulcer, gastric rupture, suicide and depression.

Electrolyte Imbalances: Electrolytes are essential to produce body’s natural electricity. This is necessary for healthy bones, joints, teeth, muscles and nerve impulses, heart, kidney, maintaining blood sugar level and oxygen delivery to the cells.

Many factors associated with eating disorders, such as irregular or slow heartbeat, poor blood circulation, angina, heart attack and arrhythmias can lead to extremely serious and even fatal heart problems. Sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest can permanently damage the heart or cause instant death.

Esophageal Reflux: Partially digested food along with the enzymes and acids, regurgitates back into the esophagus. This might damage the esophagus, larynx and even lungs. Prolonged damage can lead to esophageal and voice box cancers.

Hypertension: Elevated blood pressure due to eating disorders can cause serious health issues like vision impairment, thickening of heart’s muscles, brain damage and kidney failure.

Gastric Rupture: Eating disorders can lead to spontaneous stomach perforation, rupture or erosion.

Impaired Neuromuscular Function: Eating disorders can cause severe mineral deficiencies and malnutrition; thereby, leading to impaired neuromuscular function.

Hyperactivity: It is characterized by a maniac behavior, wherein a person feels overexcited and doesn’t rests much.

Insomnia: Malnutrition, malabsorption and hormonal imbalances due to eating disorders can lead to problems in sleeping or staying asleep. Insomnia can give rise to various physical and psychological issues.

Infertility: Infertility is inability to conceive a child. This is caused by hormonal imbalances and loss of menstruation. Vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition can also make it difficult to complete a full-term pregnancy and increase risk of having a baby with birth defects.

Anemia and Iron Deficiency: Iron deficiency and anemia make oxygen-carrying units in the blood less functional and ineffective, and might lead to heart palpitations, increased risk of infections and shortness of breath.

Kidney Infection or Failure: The kidneys flushes the toxins out from the body, maintain water balance and regulate acid concentration. Dehydration, nutritional deficiencies and low blood pressure can increase the risk of kidney infection; thereby increasing the susceptibility of kidney failure or permanent kidney damage.

Lanugo: This is marked by soft, downy hair on the back, face and arms. This occur due to a protective build-in mechanism of the body during starvation and malnutrition. These are caused by hormonal imbalances.

Low Blood Pressure or Hypotension: This is caused by malnutrition, dehydration and lower body temperature. Low blood pressure can cause myocardial infraction, shock or heart arrhythmias.

Liver Failure: Liver aids in digestion and removes waste products from the cells. Taking acetaminophen (an OTC drug) and fasting for longer periods can increase your risk of liver damage or liver failure.

Lowered Body Temperature: Lowered blood pressure and loss of insulating fat layer lead to lowered body temperature.

Malnutrition: Malnutrition is caused by both overeating and undereating. Deficiency of micronutrients, energy and protein ultimately leads to malnutrition. It may result in several health issues like kidney failure, blindness, respiratory infections, heart attack and in extreme cases, death.

Muscle Atrophy: Decrease in muscle mass or wasting away of the muscles is known as muscle atrophy. Eating disorders can also lead to muscle atrophy.

Mallory-Weiss Tear: This is tearing of the gastro-esophageal junction. It is linked to vomiting.

Osteoporosis: This refers to bone thinning along with bone mass reduction. Osteoporosis is caused by depletion of bone mass protein and calcium, making bones highly vulnerable to fracture.

Orthostatic Hypotension: Sudden drop in blood pressure while sitting or standing is referred to as orthostatic hypotension. Its symptoms are blurred vision, passing out, pounding heart, dizziness and headache.

Osteopenia: Below than normal muscle mass, indicating a vitamin D and/or calcium deficiency is termed as osteopenia. It can lead to osteoporosis. Hormonal imbalances or deficiencies associated with the loss of menstruation can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Peptic Ulcers: These are caused by smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol or coffee, and increased levels of stomach acids.

Pregnancy Complications: Eating disorders can cause a variety of pregnancy problems such as miscarriage, stillborn babies, high-risk pregnancies and death as well as moderate to severe problems in the newborn.

Pancreatitis: Caused when the digestive enzymes attack pancreas. This is caused by alcoholism, repeated stomach trauma, use of diet pills or laxatives.

Seizures: Dehydration might lead to seizures in Bulimic or Anorexic individuals. Lesions on the brain due to long-term malnutrition and reduced number of oxygen-carrying cells might contribute to seizures.

Swelling: Swelling on the face and cheeks may occur due to self-induced vomiting.

“TMJ” Syndrome: Teeth grinding and vitamin deficiencies can cause headache, problem in chewing, problems in opening and closing of mouth and degenerative arthritis in the temporomandibular joint – where lower jaw is attached to the skull.

Fatigue and Weakness: These are caused by vitamin and mineral deficiencies, poor eating habits, electrolyte imbalances, malnutrition, heart problems and depression.

Considering all the health problems that may stem from eating disorders, it is indeed more important to manage and treat the latter as early as possible. Through this article, Dr. Phil McGraw has attempted to highlight the dire need for immediate treatment, so as to prevent the patients of eating disorders from its associated mental and physical conditions.