Anorexia nervosa takes an enormous toll on the body. But that's not all. It
has the highest death rate of any mental illness. Between 5% and 20% of people
who develop the disease eventually die from it.
What happens exactly? Here's a look at what anorexia does to the human
The first victim of anorexia is often the bones. The
disease usually develops in adolescence -- right at the time when young people
are supposed to be putting down the critical bone mass that will sustain them
But the most life-threatening damage is usually the havoc wreaked on
the heart. As the body loses muscle mass, it loses heart muscle at a
preferential rate -- so the heart gets smaller and weaker. "It gets worse
at increasing your circulation in response to exercise, and your pulse and your
blood pressure get lower," says Mickley. "The cardiac tolls are acute
and significant, and set in quickly." Heart damage, which ultimately killed
singer Karen Carpenter, is the most common reason for hospitalization in most
people with anorexia.