Tuesday, July 16, 2024
HomeHealthNeglected: Anorexia and the Body

Neglected: Anorexia and the Body

Anorexia nervosa takes a huge toll on the body, with the highest death rate of any mental illness. Between 5% and 20% of those who develop the disease ultimately die from it. The longer the disease persists, the higher the chances of death. Even for survivors, anorexia can harm almost every system in the body.

So, what exactly happens in the human body with anorexia?

Bones are often the first casualties of anorexia. The disease usually starts in adolescence when bone mass is crucial for adulthood. “There’s a short time frame to build bone mass for a lifetime,” explains Diane Mickley, MD. Bone loss can begin as soon as six months after anorexic behavior starts and is one of the most irreversible complications.

The most life-threatening damage often affects the heart. Muscle loss leads to a weaker heart. Heart damage, which claimed singer Karen Carpenter’s life, is the primary reason for hospitalization among anorexics.

While the heart and bones bear the brunt, anorexia affects multiple body systems. Almost every part of the body is impacted. Low white blood cell counts and anemia are common in anorexics, weakening the immune system.

Even before noticeable weight loss, severe medical consequences begin in those with anorexia.

Many young women with severely restricted diets stop menstruating before significant weight loss occurs, affecting their fertility. Those recovering from anorexia and bulimia may face challenges with pregnancies and a higher risk of postpartum depression.

Bulimia, often linked with anorexia, causes unique health damage, especially for those who purge by vomiting.

Fortunately, many complications can be reversed through weight restoration, a crucial aspect of treatment and recovery.

Experts warn against overlooking the medical complications of anorexia due to misconceptions about the severity of the illness. Treatment for anorexia should involve both therapy and medical care from a doctor.

Access to care for eating disorders can be limited due to high costs, with insurance companies often covering only a fraction of the needed treatment sessions.

Anorexia is a serious, life-threatening illness, not just a psychological disorder. Treatment requires medical attention as well as therapy, and many patients may not receive adequate care due to financial constraints.

Improved understanding of the genetic and neurochemical basis of anorexia is essential to recognize it as a genuine illness requiring comprehensive treatment.


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