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Medical Complications

Medical Complications

Eating disorders can cause serious medical complications that can sometimes be permanent or even fatal. In patients who restrict their food intake, the majority of the medical complications result from the depletion of dietary nutrients and the atrophy of body tissue. Eventually, this wasting away can result in damage to the heart or even death. Patients who binge and purge are at increased risk for internal bleeding, stomach rupture, or electrolyte abnormalities that could result in cardiac arrest. While many of these medical problems are corrected when the patient resumes normal eating behaviors, some may be permanent, such as osteoporosis and infertility.

A more detailed list of body systems affected by eating disorders is listed below.

Physical complications from eating disorders affect many of the body’s systems:

Cardiovascular

  • bradycardia or slow pulse
  • low blood pressure
  • hypovolemia
  • conduction abnormalities resulting in sudden death by cardiac arrest

Central Nervous System

  • decreased brain mass
  • enlarged ventricles
  • impaired concentration
  • short-term memory loss
  • neurotransmitter abnormalities
  • hypothalamic abnormalities
  • pituitary abnormalities

Endocrine

  • hypercortisolism
  • hypogonadism with low estrogen and testosterone levels

Electrolytes

  • metabolic alkalosis which includes:
  • Potassium deficiency
  • Chloride deficiency
  • hyponatremia
  • dehydration
  • kidney malfunction

Gastrointestinal

  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • ulceration of the bowel
  • esophageal perforations/lacerations
  • esophagitis
  • pancreatitis
  • gastritis
  • gastric ulceration
  • constipation 

Hematological

  • thrombocytopenia
  • anemia
  • leukopenia
  • bone marrow deficiency

Gynecological

  • irregular menses or amenorrhea
  • infertility
  • atrophic vaginitis

Pulmonary – aspiration pneumonia

Renal

  • prerenal and renal azotemia
  • kidney failure
  • kidney stones

Dental

  • increased cavities
  • gingival deterioration leading to over-sensitive teeth
  • ulcerations and contusions to oral cavity
  • enamel loss
  • bleeding gums

Dermatological

  • dry skin
  • lanugo
  • scarring on knuckle (Russell’s Signs)
  • acrocyanosis
  • cold intolerance

Musculoskeletal

  • skeletal muscle weakness, lack of reflex
  • osteoporosis
  • loss of muscle
     

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