Causes of Seizures for People with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders place a tremendous amount of stress on the body, often resulting in unexpected side effects. One of the less well-known potential side effects of having an eating disorder is the development of seizures. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, seizures related to eating disorders are most common in people with either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the main causes and treatment options for eating disorder seizures.

What Causes These Seizures

Refeeding syndrome: Seizures are a well-documented side effect in severe cases of refeeding syndrome. Refeeding syndrome is a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s inability to regulate post-refeeding electrolyte levels. In addition to seizures, refeeding syndrome may also send the body into shock, potentially leading to irregular breathing or acute heart failure.

Malnutrition: Given enough time, restricted eating habits will eventually cause chronic malnutrition. Extreme malnutrition increases a person’s risk of experiencing hormone production irregularities, blood disorders, and acute organ problems. Among other things, each of these complications will also lower the body’s seizure threshold.

Dehydration: Fluid deprivation is a major cause of kidney and heart failure, two serious complications in their own right that can also lead to the development of seizures. The main causes of dehydration in people with eating disorders are over-exercising, self-induced vomiting, and misuse of diuretics or laxatives.

Medication: It’s not uncommon for people with eating disorders to also hold one or more medication prescriptions. Unfortunately, certain medications may increase a person’s risk of seizures, especially if taken by someone who is underweight. In particular, prolonged use of antidepressants can dramatically increase the risk of a person with an eating disorder developing seizures. Remember, in most cases, any potential seizure risk will be listed on your medication’s prescription. This means that it’s up to you to determine whether the benefits of the medication outweigh the heightened risk of seizures.

Seizure Response and Treatment Options

A full or partial body seizure is a very confronting thing to witness. The best way to respond if someone you know is having a seizure is to contact emergency services, keep other people at a safe distance, and keep him or her in a position that keeps their airway clear, preferably on their side.

If you know someone experiencing more or worse seizures due to an eating disorder, we strongly recommend that you reach out and lovingly urge them to get treatment. In many cases, professional treatment for bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa can drastically reduce a person’s susceptibility to seizures.

Sources: The Recovery Village, Emily Program, National Eating Disorders
Photo: Pexels

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