Anorexia Health Risks, Medical Complications, and Statistics

Common Medical Complications and Risks of Anorexia

There are a number of potential complications and health risks of anorexia, which can commonly occur in individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa. These medical complications include minor side effects such as fatigue or lack of energy as well as major ongoing health problems or even death. Generally, the health risks of anorexia become more severe as the disorder progresses. Therefore, individuals suffering from anorexia should be treated as soon as possible to reduce the risk for serious long term complications.

The following are some of the less severe or minor health risks of anorexia that are commonly encountered in individuals suffering from this eating disorder.

  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Skin problems
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach pains
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Edema (water retention)
  • Growth or Lanugo (fine downy hair)
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
  • Low testosterone in males
  • Irregular menses

More Severe Complications of Anorexia

Additionally, there are also some more severe health risks of anorexia that can occur especially if anorexia is left untreated for a longer period of time. Some of these health conditions can occur when someone is severely underweight; however, other serious conditions can occur as a result of some of the seemingly less severe health risks of anorexia. Several more severe medical complications for anorexia include:

  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Low blood sugar
  • Loss of bone mass
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Anemia
  • Infertility
  • Depression
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Cathartic colon from laxative abuse
  • Low potassium, the most common cause of nocturnal cardiac arrest
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

If a person suffering from an eating disorder becomes extremely malnourished, the medical complications and health risks of anorexia can affect nearly every organ in the body. In severe cases, vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys can sustain damage. This damage may be permanent and irreversible even when the anorexia is under control.

Anorexia Statistics

Several noteworthy anorexia statistics are provided below.

  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents
  • The average age of onset for an eating disorder is 11-13 years old
  • 5-10 million women and girls suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia in the United States
  • Approximately one million men and boys suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia in the United States
  • 86% of people with eating disorders report that the onset occurred before they reached the age of 20
  • Approximately 80% of women would like to lose weight
  • 50% of girls between the ages of 13 and 15 believe that they are overweight
  • 80% of 13 year old girls have dieted or attempted to lose weight
  • 20% of individuals who suffer from anorexia and do not receive treatment will die
  • The mortality rate due to anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate for all other causes of death in females from 15 to 24 years old
  • Anorexia Nervosa has the highest death rate of any mental illness
  • Only 1 in 10 people with eating disorder will receive treatment
  • 1-5% of female adolescents and young women are anorexic

Anorexia statistics can be used to provide important information for eating disorder specialists in order to determine possible causes and risk factors, warning signs, and the best treatment methods for anorexia. With this information, eating disorder treatment facilities such as McCallum Place, an eating disorder treatment center in St. Louis and Kansas City offering inpatient, day treatment, and outpatient eating disorder treatment programs, are able to better diagnose and treat patients suffering from eating disorders, including anorexia.

I had not found a therapist who 'got it' until I came to McCallum place.

– ES, age 26
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