Health Complications of Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders are not trends that come and go. They are serious diseases. An eating disorder can affect your physical and emotional health, and they can be fatal. They also are a major cause of suicide.

The three major types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Each type has complications and consequences for your health.

Health Complications of Anorexia

If you have anorexia, you see yourself as overweight, even when you are dangerously underweight. This eating disorder has the highest death rate of any mental health condition. Among women, it has the highest suicide rate.

Major health complications include:

  • Your bones may become very thin and weak.
  • You may not make enough red blood cells to maintain your muscles and your strength.
  • Your heart rate and blood pressure can become so low your heart starts to fail.
  • You may be so dehydrated your kidneys start to fail.
  • Your skin may become dry and yellow.
  • Your hair and nails may become thin and brittle. You may start to lose your hair.

Health Complications of Bulimia

If you have bulimia, you eat abnormally large amounts of food and cannot control your eating. This is binge eating. After eating, you may try to get rid of the food by forcing yourself to vomit. You might use lots of laxatives or extreme exercising to get rid of the food and shed the calories. This is purging. Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia maintain a nearly normal weight.

Health consequences of binging and purging include:

  • You may isolate yourself from friends and family and suffer from shame and guilt.
  • Eating large amounts of food and vomiting can severely damage your stomach and your esophagus.

  • Binging and purging can upset the balance of important body minerals, called electrolytes. This can lead to heart failure, heart attack, or stroke.

  • You may damage your teeth and throat from constant vomiting. You may have tooth decay, heartburn, and a sore throat.

  • Abuse of laxatives can cause intestinal problems, dependence on laxatives, and severe constipation if you don't use laxatives.

Health Complications of Binge Eating

If you have binge eating disorder, you eat too much food in a short period of time. You do not purge after eating. This can cause dangerous weight gain and obesity. This is the most common type of eating disorder.

Health consequences include:

  • You may feel embarrassed and guilty because of your eating and your weight.
  • You may develop high blood pressure.
  • You may develop type 2 diabetes.
  • You may develop high levels of cholesterol and fats (triglycerides) in your blood.
  • You have a higher risk of heart disease from the combination of higher blood fats, high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. 

Health consequences of eating disorders can be deadly serious. Medications, talk therapy, and nutrition care can help. These treatments can be lifesaving. If you or someone close to you has an eating disorder, professional medical care is essential to overcome the disease. Start by talking with a trusted healthcare professional today. Together, you can organize the right doctors and counselors to support you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

  2. Health Consequences of Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorder Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/health-consequences-eating-disorders