How do eating disorders affect the body?
Psychiatrist and eating disorder specialist Dr. Michael Pertschuk explains how eating disorders affect the body. Watch Dr. Pertschuk''s video for tips and information on eating behaviors.
All eating disorders have medical consequences. And the medical consequences really are those of starvation.
Anorexia perhaps is the most severe. What happens if you lose too much weight? You lose muscle mass.
The heart is not spared. So the heart muscle thins. If you lose enough weight, it can impair kidney function,
it can impair immune function. Anorexia as a diagnosis has a mortality rate
somewhere in the range of 5% to 10%. It's pretty significant. And people die from anorexia because of heart failure,
kidney failure, or overwhelming infections because their body just can't fight the infection the way it normally would.
So anorexia has a lot of serious medical complications. Bulimia can have medical complications.
Most often, fortunately, these are not severe. But people who make themselves throw up regularly, abuse laxatives, abuse diuretics,
exercise compulsively may be at risk of dehydration. They can be at risk of low potassium
is one of the chemicals that's very important in the body because it is involved in muscle contraction. So they might experience muscle aches, spasms.
More importantly, they could experience cardiac arrhythmias. So their heart isn't beating right because of the low potassium. That's obviously a major danger.
Laxative abuse is very serious. And I have seen young women who have ended up having their colons removed because of chronic laxative
abuse. Laxatives are not intended, especially the stimulant kind of laxative, to be used in quantity on a daily basis.
When it is used that way, it will eventually destroy the nerve endings of the colon.
So the colon just effectively becomes inert. It just sits there. At that point, there's nothing else to do except remove the colon and do what's
called an ileostomy to bring the small intestine out to the skin surface and put a bag on it. This is serious stuff.
The other complicating situation I should mention is diabetes and bulimia. What some people with bulimia do is binge eat.
They're diabetic. Their blood sugar goes sky high. They don't cover it with insulin, because if they covered it with insulin,
they'd end up absorbing the calories. So they don't cover it with insulin. They lose the calories out, but they're
putting their blood sugars very, very high, which puts them at huge risk for all the many medical complications that
can happen with diabetes from blindness to kidney failure. Binge eating disorder-- basically
those medical complications are those of morbid obesity. If you get to over 100% to 200% ideal body weight,
you're going to start to have medical problems like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, joint degeneration,
skin breakdown. There are a slew of problems and those are basically those of morbid obesity.
So all these disorders have medical complications. The kind of medical complications depends on the kind of disorder.
But you really can't treat an eating disorder without also paying attention to the medical side of things.
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