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Anorexia nervosa - Complications of anorexia

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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If anorexia nervosa is not treated, the condition can lead to severe health problems.

If treatment is not working or your condition deteriorates, you may be admitted to hospital.

It's also quite common for anorexia to return after treatment - for example, if a woman tries to lose weight gained during pregnancy.

Other health problems

Long-term anorexia can lead to severe complications and health problems which can be permanent, such as damaged bones.

People with anorexia also have an increased risk of:

  • poor circulation and cardiovascular problems
  • heart conditions, such as coronary heart disease and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

Anorexia can lead to another eating disorder called bulimia nervosa, where the person binge eats, then immediately makes themselves sick or uses laxatives to rid their body of the food.

Anorexia can also cause an imbalance of minerals in the blood, such as potassium, calcium and sodium.  These minerals play an important part in keeping you healthy.

A low level of potassium (hypokalaemia), can cause:

  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • dehydration 
  • kidney damage
  • seizures (fits)
  • irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

Low levels of calcium can cause muscle spasms, a lack of calcium and vitamin D can cause bone damage and a lack of sodium (hyponatraemia) can cause confusion and fits.

Other complications of anorexia include:

Misusing laxatives can permanently damage the bowels and cause permanent constipation.

Anorexia and pregnancy

If you have anorexia and are pregnant, you will be monitored closely. You may need extra health checks as part of your antenatal and postnatal care.

Anorexia during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications, such as

You are also likely to need extra care and support during pregnancy if you have previously had anorexia and recovered from it.

Medical Review: May 14, 2012
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