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Adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa disorder become so proficient at developing ways to hide their eating disorder that parents may not realize their daughters are suffering from this disorder until serious health problems begin impacting their child.

Although rapid and sustained weight loss is a classic sign of possible anorexia nervosa, most parents won’t suspect an eating disorder is causing the weight loss since teenage girls are concerned about their appearance. Certain clues parents should be aware of if they worry their daughter may have anorexia nervosa include:

  • Not maintaining a body weight proportionate to their age/height
  • Acting panic-stricken and anxious if their daughter gains just one or two pounds
  • Obsessing over calories and fat content in food
  • Offering to cook meals but eating little to none of the food they cooked
  • Engaging in food “rituals” (moving food around on their plate or cutting large portions into smaller portions so that it seems like they are eating)
  • Consuming water pills and/or laxatives to lose weight rapidly
  • Compulsively exercising several hours a day

As anorexia nervosa disorder continues depleting a teen’s body of essential vitamins, minerals and fluids, physical and mental problems emerge that start interfering with school, social activities, and family relationships. Adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa may complain of dizziness, tachycardia (abnormally fast heartbeat) and wear sweaters during hot weather. Parents may notice their daughter has extremely bad breath even though they brush their teeth.

Malnutrition due to an eating disorder deteriorates oral health, causing gum disease, tooth decay, and severe halitosis. Yellowish, dry skin and hair loss/hair thinning affect teens who do not receive anorexia nervosa treatment. Fingernails and toenails are prone to fungal infections. Eventually, as the body starts to literally consume itself, teens with anorexia nervosa could suffer additional health problems that are chronic and irreversible.

7 Long-term Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa Disorder

  1. Seizures
    The brain is essentially an organ designed to emit and send electrical impulses throughout the body, much like an extension cord delivers electricity to something that makes it “work.” Without these electrical currents running through our brain, we wouldn’t be able to “work”, either. Abnormal bursts of electrical impulses in the brain called seizures cause interruptions of normal body functions, Signs that someone having a seizure include convulsions, vigorous twitching of muscles, stiffening of the body and unconsciousness. Mineral deficiencies such as low sodium, low calcium, and low magnesium levels are known to induce seizure activity in the brain of girls suffering from anorexia nervosa. Although uncommon, brain damage may occur during a seizure if breathing in inhibited and lack of oxygen kills too many brain cells.
  2. Brain Abscesses

Although brain abscesses are not the direct result of malnutrition, they may be byproducts of anorexia nervosa disorder when girls do get treatment for severe oral infections, ear infections or heart/kidney/lung inflammation.  Cerebral abscesses develop when bacterial infection enters the brain and collects in the tissue. Symptoms of a brain abscess involve confusion, severe headache, fever, speech and movement impairment, seizures, shock, and coma. Compromised immune systems also make teen girls with eating disorders especially susceptible to brain inflammation and abscess.

  1. Stroke

Long-term malnutrition will damage brain arteries by constricting them enough to prevent blood flow from providing nourishment and oxygen to the brain. Strokes occur when a blood clot formed by pooled blood blocks blood flow to the brain. When the brain has no access to oxygen, it stops functioning and will shut down as neurons rapidly die from lack of oxygen. Symptoms of stroke include sudden weakness and numbness on one side of the body, difficulty seeing or speaking and inability to stand. Consequences of not receiving quick medical treatment for stroke include paralysis and severe deficits in cognitive abilities.

  1. Heart Failure

When you don’t consume enough calories, your body begins breaking down its own tissues to extract calories for energy. The first tissues broken down are muscles, which contain high amounts of blood, sugars, and proteins. Since the heart is actually a muscle, malnutrition due to anorexia nervosa begins deteriorating the heart’s health. Blood pressure and heart rate drop to dangerously low levels as electrolytes in the bloodstream decrease. Potassium is one electrolyte vital to supporting heart muscle contraction and beating. Loss of muscle integrity and electrolytes force the heart to beat irregularly (arrhythmia), a condition that could lead to heart failure and death.

  1. Pancreatitis

A severe lack of protein energy correlates with increasing levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that may induce chronic pancreatitis. The pancreas produces digestive enzymes necessary to digest food in the small intestine and regulates the release of glucagon and insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin and glucagon help control how the body utilizes food for energy. In addition, chronic pancreatitis may damage the kidneys, liver and/or heart. When too much pancreatic tissue dies, surgery is needed to remove the necrotized tissue before an infection develops. Symptoms of pancreatitis due to anorexia nervosa malnutrition include swollen abdomen, pain radiating into the back, vomiting, increased heart rate and fever.

  1. Osteoporosis

Bones need vitamin D, calcium, and other minerals to keep making new bone as old bone undergoes resorption. Unless bone resorption occurs, bones become porous, brittle and prone to fractures and breaks. While osteoporosis happens gradually to some people as they age, osteoporosis can happen rapidly to teens with anorexia nervosa disorder. They may experience bone fractures while exercising or even start developing a curved upper back as their spine degenerates and shortens.

  1. Kidney Failure

A healthy balance of electrolytes are needed for the kidneys to remove toxins from the body. Dehydration and malnutrition expedite dehydration, which forces the kidneys to retain fluid to try to restore reduced fluid levels. Fluid retention increases blood pressure and permits the accumulation of toxins in the bloodstream. Ketoacidosis is commonly diagnosed in teenage girls with anorexia nervosa disorder when the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates and sugars for energy. As acid levels rise in the blood, molecules called ketoacids form that interferes with kidney functioning. The kidneys work overtime to try and excrete more potassium, calcium, and sodium, as well as protein metabolism byproducts, causing them to fail and stop functioning completely. If not treated in time, kidney problems caused by anorexia nervosa may lead to the need for dialysis and medication for the rest of your life.

Clementine’s Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Center Offers Help, Hope, and Health

While residential treatment facilities typically offer one or two holistic therapies, our treatment program provides a variety of evidence-based therapies helpful to teenagers coping with an eating disorder or a dual diagnosis. Experiential activities such as art, poetry, and songwriting have been proven to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression teens. Patients also receive experience-based guidance from a team of understanding counselors who have been through the difficulty of dealing with an eating disorder. Talking daily with counselors helps clients cope with and understand how unproductive thought patterns contribute to their anorexia nervosa disorder. clients may find it difficult to discuss deeply personal problems with a therapist at first but over the course of their treatment program, they begin to realize our counselors genuinely care about making them whole, well and able to face the world head-on again with confidence and hope.

Our anorexia nervosa disorder treatment program:

  • Teaches patients how their thoughts directly influence their emotions.
  • Heals past traumas causing deep emotional pain.
  • Improves relationship, problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Helps patients understand they have the ability to achieve their goals.
  • Shows them how to constructively manage anger, fear and other strong emotions without resorting to addictive eating habits.

Relapse Prevention for Anorexia Nervosa

Eating disorders are difficult to treat simply because they are considered a form of addiction. If a patient relapses into their eating disordered self, we view this relapse in a more positive perspective that embraces the learning curve associated with relapse. By reinterpreting relapse as a need to tend to the soul, we consider this occurrence as an opportunity to improve coping skills and understand the complicated processes resulting in a patient’s particular triggering event.

Relapse prevention therapy for anorexia nervosa disorder addresses even deeper issues influencing behaviors so that the patient and their therapist can build on existing coping strategies to help reduce the risk of another relapse.

Relapse prevention therapy (RPT) takes a biopsychosocial approach to eating disorders and examines the possibility that eating disorder behaviors are overlearned, acquired habits cemented over time by intense feelings of wanting to control everything, low self-esteem, distorted body image and a detachment from reality. As time passes, the emotional and physical “rewards” experienced by girls with eating disorders diminish unless they intensify their compulsion to lose weight. Consequently, girls with anorexia nervosa are assimilated into a world that revolves around nothing but food – how much they allow themselves to eat, how much weight they gain because of eating and whether they can continue hiding their eating disorder from others.

Learn More About Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Today

Recognized as one of the leading eating disorders treatment centers in the U.S., Clementine takes a holistic, integrated approach to addressing the many mental and physical issues affecting adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa. We also focus on treating dual diagnosis disorders with professionally developed therapeutic programs personalized to exceed the needs of individual patients. Our comprehensive biopsychosocial model supporting a variety of experiential and cognitive behavioral therapies works to improve a patient’s physical wellness, mental health, self-esteem and relationships with parents, siblings, and friends. Call us today for more information about our residential treatment centers.