According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, it’s estimated that in the United States up to 10 out of every 100 young women have some sort of eating disorder. There are dozens of health and medical conditions associated with eating disorders. Fortunately, many of these are not severe and can be reversed with proper treatment. Some health related consequences, however, can be dangerous and even life-threatening. A teenager is often not fully developed mentally or physically. This means that health related conditions may appear more quickly and cause more damage than in adults.
Identifying symptoms, making an accurate diagnosis, and helping individuals get treatment is obviously a priority for those with eating disorders. Knowing and understanding the type of health consequences that often result from an eating disorder is extremely important as well. An eating disorder specialist can help teens understand exactly how specific eating disorders can currently affect their health as well as the potential life-long problems that may develop. There are several physical and emotional consequences associated with teen eating disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by an extreme obsession to control body weight. A person will often have a distorted view of their body and take measures such as excessive food restriction and exercise, purging, and even starvation in order to remain as thin as possible. Anorexia Nervosa currently has the highest mortality rate of any type of mental illness. This is directly connected to the serious medical complications that are often associated with the disorder. The following are several potential health consequences associated with Anorexia Nervosa:
- Heart Problems – Some of the most serious medical problems that result from Anorexia Nervosa are those involving the heart. An individual may develop an irregular rhythm. Heart failure can even result from prolonged complications associated with the disorder. Teenagers often think they are too young to have a heart attack, but young people in their teens can experience heart failure as a result of Anorexia Nervosa.
- Kidney Disorders – The American Journal of Kidney Diseases states that there are numerous complications that can occur due to Anorexia Nervosa. Between 15% and 20% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa will experience hypokalemic nephropathy which can lead to complete renal failure. Over 70% of people with Anorexia Nervosa will have some sort of kidney disorder. This often includes an extreme electrolyte disturbance.
- Endocrine System Failure – When fat and calories in the diet decreases dramatically hormone levels will be affected. A decrease in sex hormones can not only stop or create irregular menstrual cycles but can also lead to severe bone loss. These can increase the likelihood of fractures. A problematic endocrine system can also negatively affect cognitive functioning.
- Mental Health Issues – Struggling with an eating disorder can ultimately take a devastating toll on a person’s mental health. This may be especially true of Anorexia Nervosa since individuals often have a distorted and unrealistic view of their body. A teenager may feel an increased sense of fear, isolation, and desperation that can cause many individuals to attempt suicide. High quality eating disorder treatment facilities can help a young person work through mental health issues as well as health and medical related conditions.
Bulimia Nervosa is a disorder that includes patterns of excessive binging followed by purging. Binging is eating excessive amounts of food in a short time span while purging is then characterized by self-induced vomiting and the use of laxatives. Purging can also include fasting or excessive amounts of exercise to get rid of the extra calories that have been consumed. Some of the medical conditions that affect those with Bulimia Nervosa are the same or similar to that of the conditions resulting from Anorexia Nervosa. Some, however, are specific to Bulimia. The following are several potential health consequences associated with Bulimia Nervosa:
- Heart Conditions – As with Anorexia Nervosa, irregular heartbeat and heart failure can result from Bulimia Nervosa as well. In the case of Bulimia it is caused by the dehydration that results from excessive purging. Dehydration can lead to weakened muscles and an imbalance of electrolytes. Both of these problems may contribute to heart failure.
- Loss of Essential Nutrients – Sodium, Potassium, and Chloride may become dangerously low in the body, resulting in a variety of serious medical conditions. Low sodium in the body may cause headaches, confusion, and nausea. In extreme cases it can lead to seizures and coma. Low potassium can lead to muscle cramps and weakness. It may even cause muscles to become paralyzed. Dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea are all signs of low amounts of Chloride.
- Esophageal Inflammation – Repeated vomiting can cause extreme inflammation in the esophagus. It can change the lining in the esophagus, lead to bleeding, and certain types of cancer. The esophagus may even rupture, which can prove life-threatening. According to the National Institutes of Health, an esophageal rupture is considered a life threatening emergency that requires immediate surgery.
- Digestive Irregularities – Digestive problems can occur when laxatives are used repeatedly. Irregular bowel movement may become chronic. Other conditions that can result from abusing laxatives include irritable bowel syndrome, colon infections, and even colon cancer. Peptic ulcers might occur in the stomach. These ulcers can start to bleed and become extremely painful. Liver damage can also occur.
- Severe Dental Problems – Initially teeth can become stained and start to decay. Over time, however, more serious dental conditions may occur. Due to excessive vomiting and stomach acids, serious dental and gum problems may lead to infection and the inability to properly chew and digest food. Ultimately a person may need to have dentures in order to chew and eat properly.
Binge Eating Disorder
While there are several similarities between Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating disorder there are distinct differences between each of these disorders. Both Bulimia Nervosa and binge eating disorder involve regularly consuming an excessive amount of food. Bulimia Nervosa includes some method of purging while binge eating disorder does not. Some of the health consequences are the same for both disorders, but others are specific to Bulimia Nervosa or binge eating disorder. The following are several potential health consequences associated with binge eating disorder:
- Insulin Damage – Over time Binge eating disorder can cause an individual to become insulin resistant. This can ultimately cause a person to develop Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease that over time can cause kidney damage, blindness, amputations, and nerve damage. It can also lead to heart complications and stroke.
- Sleep Disorders – Individuals with excessive body weights risk having Sleep Apnea. This is a condition which causes a person to stop breathing on a regular basis while sleeping. John Hopkins points out that breathing can stop for 10 seconds or even longer for people with Sleep Apnea. Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems can all be associated with different types of Sleep Apnea.
- Obesity – Consuming excessive amounts of food on a regular basis will lead to weight gain for most people. Obesity is often defined as having a BMI over 30 or weighing more than 20 percent over what is considered an ideal weight. Obesity can lead to a wide range of serious health and medical problems. Heart attack, stroke, and diabetes are all dangerous conditions that are directly related to obesity.
- High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol – Regularly consuming an excessive amount of fat and calories contributes to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High blood pressure and cholesterol can contribute to a whole host of serious medical conditions. A few include stroke, aneurysms, heart failure, diabetes, and even dementia. Treating eating disorders in a residential environment may help an individual reduce the chance of developing these types of serious conditions.
OSFED encompasses a group of several, often lesser-known, eating disorders. OSFED is an acronym for (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder). These can include disorders such as Atypical Anorexia, Atypical Bulimia Nervosa, Purging Disorder (in the absence of binge eating), Atypical Binge Eating Disorder, and Night Eating Syndrome. Other eating disorders can include Diabulimia and Pica. Pica is not officially listed under OSFED, but it is an eating disorder that can also lead to serious medical and health complications. Pica involves craving and eating items that are not normally considered food. This might include paint chips, gravel, dirt, or hair. The following are several potential health consequences associated with OSFED:
- Dizziness – Several types of eating disorders may cause dizziness. Extreme dizziness can lead to fainting. While dizziness and fainting in itself may not prove dangerous, the results of a fall could result in serious injury. An individual may receive broken bones or head injuries.
- Sleep Disturbances – Night Eating Syndrome may cause severe disruption in sleep patterns. Consuming high levels of calories at night may also lead to several serious health complications. According to Harvard Health Publishing, eating at night can throw off the metabolic cycle in the body.
- Impaired Immunity – A variety of eating disorders can ultimately weaken a person’s immune system. A weakened immune system is dangerous since it leaves the individual susceptible to a variety of diseases and infections.
- Iron Deficiency and Malnutrition – This may occur as the result of several types of eating disorders, but in particular, Pica. If a person is getting full on items that provide no real nutritional value they may eventually suffer from severe malnutrition.
- High Blood Sugar – Individuals that have Diabulimia are diabetics that restrict their own insulin intake in order to control weight. A body that is subjected to high levels of blood sugar on a prolonged basis can suffer severe and often irreversible damage. This could include severe eye damage and even blindness. They may also have chronic heart, liver, and kidney disease.
- Poisoning – Depending on the type of item and the amount a person ingests, an individual may experience poisoning when they’re eating non-food items. They may also develop parasitic infections.
- Hypotension and Bradycardia – Hypotension is low blood pressure while Bradycardia is an extremely slow heart rate. The BC Medical Journal states that Hypotension and Bradycardia are the most prevalent cardiovascular issues seen in young people that are malnourished.
Whether you or a loved one is experiencing any of these eating disorders, it’s important to seek professional help before any health consequences become life-threatening. Teenagers and adolescents need specialized care when receiving treatment for eating disorders. They are mentally, emotionally, and often physically not as developed as an adult.
When seeking out treatment for teens it’s important to find a facility that understands the needs of younger individuals and has experience working specifically with teenagers. Clementine Programs, are a subsidiary of Monte Nido, which is a national industry leader in the treatment of a variety of eating disorders. Founder Carolyn Costin states, “An important factor of Monte Nido’s success, and one reason why people say they choose Monte Nido, has to do with the loving, empathic staff, who know when to challenge and when to nurture.”
Clementine provides residential eating disorder programs with a holistic approach that offers comprehensive support from a variety of trained professionals. A balanced approach to treatment includes individualized treatment plans with an experienced treatment team, daily group therapy, life skills development, and extensive aftercare planning. Clementine also offers treatment for adolescent girls with co-occurring disorders. They offer the highest level of medical and psychiatric care available outside of a hospital setting. A teen will receive advanced care in a homelike setting. Contact Clementine for more information.
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