What are the complications of anorexia nervosa?

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as potential complications:
  • Anemia
  • Heart problems, such as mitral valve prolapse, abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure
  • Bone loss, increasing risk of fractures later in life
  • In females, absence of a period
  • In males, decreased testosterone
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating or nausea
  • Electrolyte abnormalities, such as low blood potassium, sodium and chloride
  • Kidney problems
  • Organ Damage and Death

Medical complications that may result from anorexia include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Cardiovascular (heart): While it is difficult to predict which anorexic patients might have life-threatening cardiac consequences that result from their illness, up to 95 percent of hospitalized anorexic patients have been found to have low heart rates. Myocardial (heart muscle) damage that can occur as a result of changes in the heartbeat, or repeated vomiting, may be life threatening. Common cardiac complications that may occur include the following: - arrhythmias (a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat) - bradycardia (slow heartbeat) - hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Hematological (blood): An estimated one-third of anorexic patients have mild anemia (low red blood cell count). Leukopenia (low white blood cell count) occurs in up to 50 percent of anorexic patients.
  • Gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines): Normal movement in intestinal tract often slows down with very restricted eating and severe weight loss. Gaining weight and some medications help to restore normal intestinal motility.
  • Renal (kidney): Dehydration often associated with anorexia results in highly concentrated urine. Polyuria (increased production of urine) may also develop in anorexic patients when the kidneys ability to concentrate urine decreases. Renal changes usually return to normal with the restoration of normal weight.
  • Endocrine (hormones): Amenorrhea (cessation of the menstrual cycle) is one of the hallmark symptoms of anorexia, when a menstrual period is missed for three or more months without any other underlying cause. Amenorrhea often precedes severe weight loss and continues after normal weight is restored. Reduced levels of growth hormones are sometimes found on anorexic patients and may explain growth retardation sometimes seen in anorexic patients. Normal nutrition usually restores normal growth.
  • Skeletal (bones): Persons with anorexia are at an increased risk for skeletal fractures (broken bones). When the onset of anorexic symptoms occurs before peak bone formation has been attained (usually mid to late teens), a greater risk of osteopenia (decreased bone tissue) or osteoporosis (bone loss) exists. Bone density is often found to be low in females with anorexia, and low calcium intake and absorption is common.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.