Anorexia nervosa - Bulimia nervosa - Binge eating disorder
People with anorexia have a greater variety of health complications and
a greater risk of death than do people with bulimia. However, both
eating disorders can result in serious health problems.
The most serious health risk from anorexia is death, either because of
the effects of severe weight loss or by suicide. Other problems include:
Anorexia can cause irregular heart rhythms and result in smaller
heart muscles. Heart disease is a common cause of death for people
Changes in reproductive hormones and in thyroid hormones can cause
absence of menstruation (amenorrhea), infertility, bone loss and
minerals and electrolytes.
Your body needs adequate levels of minerals, particularly calcium
and potassium, in order to maintain the electric currents that keep
your heart beating. Disruption of your body's levels of fluids and
minerals creates an electrolyte imbalance. Unless restored, this
imbalance can be life-threatening.
Anorexia may cause brain and nerve damage, seizures and loss of
Lack of nutrition can reduce your body's levels of vitamin B-12,
causing anemia and affecting your body's ability to produce enough
red blood cells.
Anorexia can cause constipation and bloating.
The related health problems aren't as severe for bulimia, partly because
most people with bulimia maintain a normal weight. Complications may
Teeth and gum
The presence of gastric acid in your mouth from regular vomiting may
cause damage to your teeth and gums.
The purging process tends to make your body dehydrated and to lower
the level of potassium in your blood. This can cause weakness and
irregular heart rhythms.
Purging may cause irritation of the walls of your esophagus and
rectum. Repeated purging may also cause constipation.
Bulimia may lead to depression and can be associated with a variety
of impulsive behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, stealing, alcohol
abuse and drug abuse.
The variety of over-the-counter drugs you may use during purge
cycles may cause a drug dependency. These include laxatives,
diuretics, appetite suppressants and ipecac, a drug that induces
Binge eating disorder
This eating disorder can cause a variety of complications, including:
Severe cases of anorexia may require immediate hospitalization in order
to rehydrate your body and restore your electrolyte balance.
For anorexia, your doctor or a nutritionist will want to set you on a
course to gradually gain weight. To treat either anorexia or bulimia,
your doctor likely will recommend nutrition education, psychotherapy and
family counseling. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to reduce
bingeing, vomiting and preoccupation with food or to treat the
depression and anxiety that may be associated with eating disorders.
Your doctor or nutritionist may discuss with you the establishment
of a routine for meals and the importance of a healthy diet.
Your therapist may suggest cognitive behavior therapy. This approach
is based on a belief that emotional problems stem from distorted
attitudes and ways of thinking. Your therapist helps you to revise
negative or erroneous perceptions.
This counseling can help address feelings of guilt and anxiety
within a family that may have led to a child's eating disorder.
Doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressant medications to treat
eating disorders. Commonly, doctors prescribe selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem),
sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa),
escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluvoxamine (Luvox). Other antidepressant
medications may include venlafaxine (Effexor) and tricyclic
antidepressants such as imipramine (Tofranil) and desipramine (Norpramin).
If you're experiencing depression and anxiety, which commonly
accompany eating disorders, antidepressant medications will benefit
these conditions as well.
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