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Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

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Anorexia: The Body Neglected

What, exactly, does anorexia nervosa do inside the human body? The heart and bones suffer the most.

Anorexia Damage Starts Early continued...

Many young women who begin eating a severely restricted diet stop menstruating well before serious weight loss sets in. Since so many people with anorexia are teenage girls and young women, this can have long-term consequences on their ability to bear children.

"In truly, fully recovered anorexics and bulimics, it looks like the rate, frequency and number of pregnancies is normal," says Mickley. "However, if you look at infertility clinics, and those patients in the clinics who have infrequent or absent periods, the majority of them appear to have occult eating disorders. They may think they're fully recovered, but they haven't gotten their weight up high enough."

Many women with anorexia would rather seek fertility treatment than treatment for their eating disorder, Mickley says. And even among women who have fully recovered from their anorexia and bulimia, there may be a slightly higher rate of miscarriages and caesarean sections. "There also may be up to a 30% higher incidence of postpartum depression as compared to other women," she says.

The Risks of Bulimia

Bulimia, which often goes hand in hand with anorexia, does its own unique health damage. Bulimics who purge by vomiting wreak havoc on their digestive tracts by chronically bathing them in stomach acid, which can lead to digestive disorders like reflux esophagitis.

"It feels like I've been drinking Draino," said one woman who posted to a forum on digestive diseases about the consequences of her lifelong anorexia and bulimia. Some reported cases suggest bulimia may have led to a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which may can lead to esophageal cancer.

Damage from Anorexia May Be Reversible

The good news: Many of these complications can be reversible -- if the person returns to a normal weight. "The real focus has to be on weight restoration if you want to reverse outcomes," says Rebecka Peebles, MD, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. "That's the most essential part of treatment. You can't wait around for it to happen. It really is an essential first step in treatment and recovery."

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