One of my daughters recently researched and wrote about eating disorders for a school project, and our family discussed the project while she worked on it. Eating disorders do cause death, e.g. a couple of high profile cases were Terry Schiavo and Karen Carpenter, so I felt I ought to do a post about it. 5-20% with Anorexia Nervosa will die from the illness.
Like so many disease processes, Eating Disorders have a combination of biological, social and psychological factors contributing to causation, research continues. Most importantly, remember it is not a lifestyle of choice. Eating disorders also have a broad spectrum of presentations, “pure” Anorexia (severe food restriction), “pure Bulimia (Purging), and Mixed presentations, with “Body Dysmorphic Disorder (excessive concern with body habitus and characteristics with intense “treatment” seeking behaviors) in the mix. Helpguide and the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, among others, are good sources of information.
Eventually Eating Disorders “present” dramatically, but early on and even later you need to be really looking and really seeing; with food rituals, the avoidance of food, weight loss and an excessive focus on exercise. Serious and potentially lethal consequences ensue; loss of bone density (osteoporosis), loss of hair, easy bruising, muscle weakness and wasting, fatigue, and fainting, to name a few. Symptoms can progress to dehydration, blood electrolyte abnormalities, and cardiac rhythm disturbances. Hormonal abnormalities, probably led by decreased gonadotropin-releasing hormone, include increased luteinizing hormone, decreased prolactin, decreased estrogen (with loss of menses), decreased testosterone, decreased thyroid hormone (cold intolerance and other metabolic abnormalities). Lanugo (fine, downy hair over the entire body, including face) can develop in longer term cases.
Death can occur due to severe dehydration, severe electrolyte (body salts that are responsible for cell and nerve functioning) abnormalities, cardiac rhythm or pumping abnormalities, and other lethal endpoints of the disease processes induced by the Eating Disorder.
Eating Disorders contribute to and are complicated by mental health disorders, particularly Depression, and that Depression can kill as well.
Early treatment is essential. The effects of this illness on the body and mind are serious and can get ingrained and can be lethal. Recovery gets harder the longer the duration of the illness. Treatment in many cases needs to be life-long.
If you, a friend, or other loved one has or may have an Eating Disorder, get help. While you can’t force another person to get help, encourage them, show them you care, be firm, recruit others to help, show them or take them to where they can get help.
A good source of more information: National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.