Anorexia nervosa involves a relentless pursuit of thinness and an unwillingness to maintain a normal body weight. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa are preoccupied with body weight, body shape, dieting, food, fat, or calories. Despite their emaciation, people who suffer from anorexia nervosa have an extreme fear of gaining weight and becoming fat. These fears do not usually subside even after weight loss. They also have a distorted perception of the shape or size of their bodies. Females with anorexia nervoa will also stop menstruating or fail to begin. In order to maintain a low body weight, people with anorexia nervosa often severely restrict their diets, either by consuming only small quantities of food, eliminating “high-calorie” foods from their diets, or fasting.  Some sufferers try to keep weight low through self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives, diuretics, and enemas, or exercising excessively. A subgroup of people with anorexia nervosa has periods when they lose control over eating and consume unusually large amounts of food (binge eating).

Common Physical Complications Associated with Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder and is associated with numerous medical complications. However, many of these complications are reversible with proper nutrition and discontinued use of laxatives, diuretics, and enemas, and cessation of self-induced vomiting.

Medical complications include:

  • Electrolyte imbalances (which can lead to heart attack and kidney failure)
  • Cardiac irregularities
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Cerebral atrophy
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Dental deterioration
  • Finger clubbing or swelling
  • Edema and dehydration
  • Loss of menstrual periods and infertility
  • Bone abnormalities (bone mineral loss and osteoporosis)
  • Dry skin and hair loss
  • Lanugo (fine hair growth on face and body)