What You Need To Know About Anorexia, Bulimia, and Other Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are more prevalent than you may realize. In the U.S. alone, eating disorders affect over 5 million people annually, yet you may not recognize when it’s happening to you or a loved one. An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition related to thoughts about food and eating behaviors. This medical issue, which has the potential to affect a person’s physical and mental well-being and can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies, may involve eating more or less than needed.
Eating Disorder Types
Common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating, and bulimia nervosa. Individuals with anorexia tend to avoid eating food, restrict how much food they eat, or eat very small quantities. Those who binge eat, on the other hand, will eat large quantities at once and then fast for extended periods. People who have bulimia also binge-eat, but they will typically purge (make themselves vomit), abuse laxatives, or over-exercise to compensate for the increase in caloric intake. They may also eat very quickly, secretly, or hide. In most cases, people who struggle with eating disorders have issues with their body image and harbor a fear of gaining weight. Other types of eating disorders include diabulimia, purging disorder, compulsive exercise disorder, other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED), and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
Some Common Causes of Eating Disorders
While the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, some general risk factors could trigger them. These factors could be genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, or social.
High stress and emotions, for example, could increase one’s risk of developing an eating disorder. Certain genes and changes in brain chemicals during adolescence could also play a role. Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia usually appear during the teen years or in early adulthood and are more common in young women than in young men.*
Eating Disorder Health Concerns and Risks
Each eating disorder comes with its own possible health concerns. People who have anorexia may eventually begin to experience issues like:
- Bone thinning
- Mild anemia
- Slowed breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Dry or blotchy skin
- Thin or brittle hair and nails
- Muscle weakness
- Feeling cold all the time
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Constant tiredness
If left untreated, anorexia could even lead to brain damage or heart and kidney problems.
Individuals with bulimia may have side effects like:
- Sore throat
- Swollen salivary glands
- Worn tooth enamel
- Decaying teeth
- Acid reflux
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Severe dehydration
If bulimia isn’t properly treated, it could eventually cause a stroke.
All eating disorders affect the body’s ability to get proper nutrition and usually cause problems with growth and development, both physically and mentally. Even though they can be extremely dangerous, eating disorders are treatable, and you or your loved one can reverse their effects with support.
Eating Disorder Treatment Options
If you or someone you love shows signs of an eating disorder, you don’t have to go through recovery alone. Contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. A healthcare professional will start by asking about the patient’s comprehensive medical, mental health, family, and sociocultural history. They then will order the appropriate medical examinations and laboratory procedures to rule out other diagnoses. Once a diagnosis is reached, treatment can begin.
Treatment methods for eating disorders usually include a comprehensive, multidisciplinary care team, including individual, family, and group therapy, nutritional counseling, and medication management.
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