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
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