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Effects of Anorexia

woman in bed

Effects of anorexia nervosa, a complex psychological and physical disorder in which a person starves themselves, are numerous. People who have Anorexia Nervosa may experience a number of effects which can be categorized as either physical or emotional in nature. The list of possible negative consequences up to and including death, are numerous. Anorexia, left untreated, is a dangerous and life-threatening condition but most effects can be improved or reversed if proper treatment is given.

Physical Effects of Anorexia

The physical effects of anorexia nervosa affect every single system in the human body. With the dramatic weight loss and emaciation that accompanies the disorder, malnutrition and dehydration can occur. Lack of essential energy requirements and nutrients tax the entire body and can result in electrolyte disturbances such as hypokalemia (low blood potassium) and hyponatremia (low blood sodium), among others. Electrolyte disturbances, in turn, can cause heart arrhythmias, irregular heartbeats, and even heart attacks.

Anorexia can cause organ damage

The heart is not the only organ in the cardiovascular system that may be affected by anorexia. The blood itself may also be damaged. Abnormal blood counts and anemia (low red blood cells or abnormal red blood cells with impaired oxygen-carrying capacity) are not uncommon. People with Anorexia Nervosa may also bruise easily. Low blood pressure can also result and cause dizziness and fainting.

Digestive system damage

The digestive system is affected as well. Besides experiencing constant hunger pangs, constipation or bloating may occur. The stomach may shrink in size, making the reintroduction of food troublesome.

The kidneys are not immune either. Further effects of anorexia nervosa may include kidneys stones and even kidney failure.

Hormonal Effects of Anorexia

One of the systems that is hardest hit is the hormonal system. Many derangements of hormones in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis may occur. Changes in Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH), Leutenizing Hormone (LH), and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) can result in the disappearance of menstruation (amenorrhea) in females. Sex hormones are also affected and another effect of Anorexia Nervosa is impotence in men and low sex drive in both males and females.

Yet another effect of anorexia is the inability of the body to regulate its temperature. Advanced Anorexics tend to be intolerant of cold temperatures. If a woman happens to become pregnant while their Anorexia is active, they are at an increased risk for having a miscarriage and if the baby does come to term successfully, of needing a C-section. Their baby is at an increased risk of having a low birth weight.

The nervous system is affected by Anorexia Nervosa and the effect is slow mentation, difficulty in focusing, and decreased attention. Changes in neurochemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine may also occur, resulting in a variety of psychological effects.

Skin and Hair Effects

Skin, hair, bones, and joints may also suffer negative effects as a result of Anorexia Nervosa. Hair and nails become brittle. Nails can become discolored and yellow. Hair loss may even occur. The joints may swell as well as the extremities. In addition, a characteristic effect of Anorexia Nervosa is a covering of fine hairs all over the body called lanugo.

Besides the damaging physical effects of anorexia, negative psychological and emotional effects can also occur. People with Anorexia Nervosa are often depressed, irritable, fatigued, and suffer from insomnia and wild mood swings. They can experience a great amount of anxiety and a compulsive relationship with both food and exercise. They may engage in destructive thought patterns such as black and white thinking, a fixation on body image, and always feeling fat while being in denial of how thin they really are. Anorexia Nervosa effects may include perfectionism, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction.

Clearly there are many negative effects of anorexia. The disorder is extremely serious but treatment can alleviate most, if not all of Anorexia effects. Complete recovery is possible.

Treatment for Effects of Anorexia

Anorexics should be encouraged to seek professional treatment as soon as possible due to the potential for permanent damage from this illness. Treatment programs for anorexia may involve both medical treatment and psychological counseling to manage underlying issues.

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