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Eating Disorders Affect Fertility, Pregnancy

Anorexia, Bulimia Linked to More Infertility, Unplanned Pregnancies
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 5, 2011 -- Women with anorexia or bulimia or a history of eating disorders have more fertility problems, unplanned pregnancies, and negative feelings about having a child than women with no such history, a new study from the United Kingdom finds.

Researchers from King’s College London and the University College London examined data from surveys of more than 11,000 pregnant women, including about 500 with a history of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or both conditions.

Although women with a history of eating disorders were no more likely than other women to take longer than a year to conceive, a higher percentage did take more than six months to achieve a pregnancy (39% vs. 25%).

Infertility Treatment More Common With Eating Disorders

Women who reported having an eating disorder in the present or past were more than twice as likely to have received treatment to help them conceive (6% vs. 2.7%).

Among the other findings in the self-reported, survey-based study:

  • 41% of women with past or current eating disorders reported that their pregnancies were unplanned, compared to 28% of women with no such history.
  • Although the majority of women reported being happy to discover they were pregnant (71%), women with anorexia or bulimia were more than twice as likely to report feeling unhappy about their pregnancies (10% vs. 4%).
  • Women with an eating disorder or history of one were also more than twice as likely to consider motherhood a “personal sacrifice.”

The study, published online this week in the international obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG, is the largest ever conducted in the U.K. examining the impact of eating disorders on fertility and attitudes about pregnancy.

Study researcher Abigail Easter says the findings highlight the need to provide extra support to women with current or prior eating disorders before conception and during pregnancy.

“We know that many women with a history of an eating disorder often feel unable to inform health care professionals of their illness,” she tells WebMD. “When planning a pregnancy or becoming pregnant we would encourage women with eating disorders, even if it was in the past, to discuss this with their doctors.”

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