Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa are incredibly dangerous and unfortunately, can be deadly. An estimated 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder, and a person dies every 62 minutes from these disorders. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition for females ages 15 to 24.
These facts make it essential to learn more about anorexia and other eating disorders and seek help if necessary.
Find answers about anorexia by searching the below commonly asked questions about this condition.
Yes. Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, often co-occur with anorexia. Weight loss, starvation and malnutrition — telltale symptoms of anorexia — are closely associated with poor sleep quality and reduced sleep time. Sleep disturbances can increase a person’s risk of developing additional mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
A 2016 study published in the journal Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory Research and Practice examined the relationship between anorexia and sleep problems. Researchers found that people with anorexia reported experiencing difficulties falling asleep, poor sleep quality, interrupted sleep, reduced sleep time and early morning waking.
Yes. It is common for individuals with anorexia to feel irritated or restless. Many people who experience anorexia grapple with anxious feelings about their body image. They may also strive to avoid eating in public, which can cause anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders often accompany eating disorders such as anorexia. In some instances, anxiety can worsen symptoms of anorexia and make recovery harder.
Research has yet to prove that anorexia causes cancer. Some studies show that anorexia increases the risk of certain cancers, while other reports indicate that a restricted diet reduces the chances of developing cancer. Further research must be conducted to find more proof that anorexia can increase or decrease the risk of cancer.
A 2015 study by Scottish researchers found that people with anorexia were six-times more likely than those without the disorder to develop esophageal cancer. This type of cancer affects the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach.
A 2001 study published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control showed that a low-energy diet decreases tumor development in women. However, researchers concluded that follow-up studies should be carried out to further evaluate the association between anorexia and cancer.
Research suggests that anorexia can contribute to developing dementia. Anorexia can lead to malnourishment, which can cause brain damage. Researchers at Standford University found that anorexia can shrink the brain. The loss of grey matter in the brain is associated with memory problems, which is a symptom of dementia.
A 2016 study published in the journal Neurocase analyzed two cases that involved food aversion and dementia. Researchers examined a 57-year-old woman with symptoms of anorexia, which included weight loss and an intense fear of gaining weight.
The individual evaluated in the study developed symptoms of anorexia before experiencing symptoms of dementia. The progression from anorexia to dementia could suggest that the eating disorder may have contributed to her cognitive problems.
Yes. Anorexia can produce several health problems, including stomach ulcers. When a person severely decreases their calorie intake, malnutrition can occur. As a result, stomach muscles can weaken and ulcers can form.
Anorexia can affect the way the stomach digests food. If stomach emptying is delayed, bacteria can form and solid lumps in the stomach. When there is little food to protect the stomach walls from acid, ulcers can accompany bacterial infections.
Yes. People with anorexia can experience a slowed metabolism caused by a reduction in food intake. According to the University of California, Santa Barbara, anorexia can cause starvation that can result in lower hormone levels. Lower hormone levels can lead to a slowed metabolism.
Many people strive to slow their metabolism. However, a slowed metabolism can result in low energy levels because the body isn’t getting the fuel it needs to sustain itself. Chronic fatigue is also associated with slower metabolism.
Anorexia can affect a person’s ability to sustain and form relationships. Anorexia is a mental illness that can cause people to compulsively restrict their diet. A decline in energy from a lack of nutrition can cause people to become socially withdrawn. Changes to the brain caused by anorexia can also affect a person’s ability to interact with others.
Emotional isolation is a risk factor of anorexia. Teens, in particular, are vulnerable to antisocial behaviors if they deal with anorexia. Their obsessive concern over their body image can lead to their avoiding social situations.
A person with anorexia can become pregnant. However, women dealing with anorexia while pregnant and their fetus can experience several health consequences. Some of these health issues can be fatal to the baby.
According to March of Dimes, an infant of a mother with anorexia can experience:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Feeding problems
- Breathing problems
Anorexia can also increase a pregnant woman’s risk of miscarriage. A miscarriage occurs when a baby dies in the womb before the 20th week of pregnancy. After 20 weeks of pregnancy, the baby of a mother with anorexia can experience stillbirth.
Anorexia can cause brain complications that can affect a person’s performance at school. This eating disorder can weaken cognitive functioning and hinder a person’s ability to think critically, multitask and retain information.
Teens with anorexia can exhibit behavioral problems and have trouble concentrating. Anorexia can limit a person’s calorie intake, which affects energy levels. Chronic fatigue caused by anorexia can result in academic issues.
Anorexia can influence a woman’s reproductive health. Many women with the disorder exercise excessively, which can affect their menstrual cycle. The disorder can also lead to amenorrhea, a condition characterized as an abnormal absence of menstruation.
Why do anorexics lose their period? Being underweight can affect ovulation and increase a woman’s risk of infertility. The presence of body fat allows women to menstruate. When a person’s body fat falls below a threshold, their menstrual cycle can become irregular or cease to ovulate.
While anorexia is not an addiction, it resembles an addiction. The eating disorder involves pursuing a restricted diet despite knowing the physical, psychological and social repercussions of these actions. Addiction involves compulsively seeking a substance despite knowing these consequences.
However, a 2011 study published in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews showed that fundamental differences exist between anorexia and addiction. For example, people addicted to drugs or alcohol experience euphoria when using these substances. Conversely, some people with anorexia experience an emotional reward from the absence of food intake. The study concluded that anorexia nervosa is not an addiction in and of itself.
Anorexia psychosis can occur when a person with anorexia experiences symptoms of psychosis, such as auditory hallucinations. Additional symptoms of anorexia psychosis include social isolation, mistrust of others and poor treatment adherence.
Diagnosable psychotic conditions, such as schizophrenia, and anorexia can co-occur. An article published in Psychiatric Times indicated that psychiatric disorders occur in about 1 in 10 individuals with anorexia.
A 2014 study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry stated that the co-occurrence of eating disorders and psychiatric problems are more common among people whose primary disorder is a mental illness. However, the report also found that psychosis can worsen symptoms of eating disorders and prolong treatment.
Anorexia relapse occurs when a person with a history of anorexia experiences a setback in their recovery. They might once again deal with negative thoughts about their body image that causes them to restrict their diet, exercise excessively or make efforts to eat alone. Intense stress can trigger anorexia relapse.
People with a history of anorexia can take steps to prevent an anorexia relapse. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, these individuals should make efforts to identify triggers and warning signs. They should also identify medical professionals and loved ones who can provide advice and support if needed.
People who experience anorexia bruise easily because their bodies lack nutrients. An extreme lack of vitamins and minerals can cause the skin to become dry and possibly turn yellow. When the skin becomes discolored, it is more susceptible to bruising.
Bruising typically occurs when blood vessels under the skin become damaged. Nutritional deficiencies caused by weight loss can make people more vulnerable to bruising. Low levels of folic acid and vitamins C, K and B-12 are associated with bruising.
According to Princeton University, people with anorexia can experience fainting spells because of a lack of nutrients. When the body lacks sufficient nutrients, people can feel fatigued, weak, dizzy or lightheaded, which are all symptoms that can lead to fainting.
Dehydration, another symptom of anorexia, can also lead to fainting. Anorexia can lead to electrolyte imbalances because the body fails to receive enough sodium, potassium and other vitamins. Low levels of electrolytes increase a person’s risk of fainting.