Causes & Effects of Anorexia

McCallum Place provides leading anorexia treatment to ensure long-lasting recovery for a healthier and more satisfying life.

Effects of Anorexia: Physical & Mental Effects of Anorexia

There are a number of effects of anorexia both on a person’s body physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Some of these effects are short term effects including overall poor health and frequent infections, which occur only while a person suffers from anorexia. However, some of the more serious emotional and physical effects can continue even after recovery and throughout a person’s life. Because the effects of anorexia can be serious and potentially life threatening, any person showing signs of anorexia should contact a treatment center, like McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers in St. Louis and Kansas City to begin the path to recovery today.

Psychological Effects of Anorexia

Adolescents and teenagers who suffer from anorexia are at a greater risk for anxiety and depression in young adulthood. This anxiety can occur even after a person undergoes anorexia treatment. Additionally, because anorexia commonly occurs along with other mental disorders including depression, an increased risk for self-harmful and suicidal behaviors is an effect of anorexia. Finally, alcohol and drug abuse are also commonly found in patients suffering from anorexia.

Hormonal Effects of Anorexia

One of the most serious effects of anorexia in women and teenage girls is the hormonal changes that can occur. These hormonal effects of anorexia can result in the temporary loss of menstruation and in some cases, permanent infertility. Specific hormonal effects of anorexia include:

  • Reduced reproductive hormone levels including estrogen, which is important for healthy hearts and bones, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is important for bone health and other functions
  • Reduced thyroid hormones
  • Increased stress hormones
  • Reduced growth hormones, which may result in retarded growth for children and adolescents with anorexia

Anorexia Effects on Pregnancy

Anorexia can impact women who are pregnant if the pregnancy occurs when an individual is suffering from anorexia or prior to complete recovery from anorexia. For example, if a woman becomes pregnant before returning to a normal weight, she carries a higher risk for miscarriage, cesarean section, and for delivering an infant with a low birth weight or birth defects. She may also be at a higher risk for developing postpartum depression. Women suffering from anorexia who are trying to become pregnant and seek fertility treatments have lower chances for success.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a frequent effect of anorexia and the most common medical cause of death in individuals suffering from anorexia. Several of the main physical effects of anorexia on the heart include:

  • Abnormal and dangerous heart rhythms, including slow rhythms, also known as bradycardia
  • Reduced blood flow throughout the body
  • Reduced and dangerously low blood pressure
  • Shrinking heart muscles due to loss of blood flow and malnutrition
  • Reduced mineral levels and electrolyte imbalances including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate imbalances, which are crucial for maintaining a normal heartbeat

Effects of Anorexia on Bones and Growth

Whether anorexia occurs during the critical stages of development in adolescents or in young women, one of the major effects of anorexia on the body is a loss of bone calcium. Nearly 90% of women with anorexia experience ostenopenia, or loss of bone calcium, while 40% develop osteoporosis, an advanced and even more serious loss of bone density. Bone loss in women is largely due to low estrogen levels, which are a hormonal effect of anorexia. However, other biological factors of this eating disorder may also contribute to bone loss including:

  • High stress hormone levels, which impair bone growth
  • Low levels of calcium in the diet and blood
  • Reduced DHEA, which helps in bone growth

For cases of anorexia in adolescents and children, up to two-thirds of girls will fail to develop strong bones during this period of critical growth and development. This stunted growth is also an effect of anorexia on young boys as well. Bone loss and reduced bone growth, as an effect of anorexia, may not completely be restored during the recovery process even as a person gains weight. Additionally, this bone loss is more likely to be permanent the longer the eating disorder persists.

Additional Physical Effects of Anorexia

There are several additional physical effects of anorexia that can occur in young women, adolescents, teens, and men. These effects include:

  • Neurological problems including temporary or permanent nerve damage effecting the brain or other parts of the body
  • Blood problems such as anemia or pancytopenia, a dramatic reduction in the production of blood cells
  • Gastrointestinal problems including bloating, constipation and reflux
  • Multi-organ failure in the very late stages of anorexia

I really appreciate that the staff validates my thoughts and feelings before trying to work on them. They don’t just say ‘that’s irritational, just stop!

– A Former Resident
Marks of Quality Care
  • Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa
  • International Association Of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
  • RenewED, Eating Disorders Support
  • Washington University in St. Louis