Eating Disorders Medical Consequences and Concerns
This guide was written to help you understand the serious medical concerns linked to eating disorders. Outward appearance alone may be misleading. Someone with an eating disorder can have serious medical problems.
Someone who restricts their eating may have:
- A decreased metabolic rate
- Low blood pressure and slow pulse
- Dizziness or fainting
- Cold intolerance
- Loss of menstrual periods - leading to thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and spontaneous fractures
- Decreased kidney function with an increased risk of kidney stones
- Coarse, dry hair or hair loss
- Retardation in growth
- Decreased concentration
- Increased depression and risk of suicide
- Loss of mass in muscles and vital organs
- Obsession with food and binge eating
- Hoarding and stealing
People who binge can have:
- Excess weight gain
- Gross swelling of the stomach with the chance of rupture
- Swelling of feet, legs and hands
Each behavior has serious medical concerns. When used in combination, persons are at high risk for electrolyte imbalances, heart rhythm disturbance, and possible sudden death.
Vomiting or purging may cause:
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Low blood potassium levels (which will cause muscle weakness and sudden death, heart failure, anxiety or depression)
- Increased tooth decay
- Sore throats, mouth sores, or blood in the vomitus
- Nasal congestion
- Eye hemorrhages
- Enlarged salivary glands
Ipecac to induce vomiting is extremely dangerous. It is not metabolized by the body and can result in heart muscle damage and toxicity to other muscles
Laxatives do not significantly reduce the calories absorbed by the body. Instead, they cause severe medical risks such as:
- Rectal bleeding, rectal fissures or hemorrhoids
- Dehydration, dizziness and/or fainting
- Low potassium with heart problems
- Muscle weakness
When laxatives are stopped, water weight gain increases and normal bowel function does not easily return.
Diuretics may lead to dehydration and fainting, low potassium levels, muscle weakness, and heart problems
Excessive exercise may cause stress fractures, loss of menstrual periods, and osteoporosis.
Diet pills do little to curb one’s appetite but may cause anxiety, restlessness, depression, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, strokes, seizures, and heart attacks
Sugar free candies, mints or gum which contain Sorbitol® may cause bloating, cramping, and diarrhea
You need to contact your health care provider for more information and follow-up.
What is the treatment?
Treatment for eating disorders may include psychotherapeutic intervention, psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, family therapy, and in some cases behavior therapy.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/14/2010
Copyright © 04/14/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4450
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