In the United States alone, millions of people, male and female, are fighting eating disorders. Such disorders can include anorexia nervosa, binge eating and bulimia nervosa.
In addition to the immediate negative effects an eating disorder can have on a person's body, there are several long-term consequences that can compromise individual health. A person could even suffer life-threatening consequences as a result of an eating disorder. Additional side effects depend on the type of disorder from which a person may be suffering.
Negative side effects of anorexia nervosa are often the result of the state of starvation a body goes through while a person exhibits anorexic behavior. When starving the body, someone who is anorexic can expect the following starvation-related side effects:
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Disturbances in electrolyte levels
Loss of muscle mass
These side effects are largely physiological. But a person who is anorexic can suffer noticeable physical side effects as well. Such physical side effects can include:
Discoloration of the skin, which will often appear to be turning yellow
Scaly skin that dries out easily
Brittle hair and nails
Such side effects are among the more immediate consequences of anorexia nervosa, but a person suffering from anorexia may also develop more long-term health problems. Those problems might include the development of a condition called osteopenia, in which a decreased intake of calcium makes the bones at a much greater risk of fractures.
Abdominal pain and bloating as well as chronic constipating can also result from the slowing of the body's gastrointestinal tract that results from anorexia nervosa.
One of the more unsettling and potentially fatal side effect of anorexia nervosa relates to the heart. Anorexics are starving their bodies, which includes starving the muscles, and that includes the heart. The more a person exhibits anorexic behavior, the greater the risk of heart failure. Abnormal heart rhythms can also develop as a result of lower levels of sodium, zinc, calcium, and potassium. That's especially dangerous, as abnormal heart rhythms can cause sudden death.
When someone is suffering from bulimia nervosa, he or she consumes large amounts of food during a binge before compensating for that binge by vomiting, fasting or even abusing diuretics. Bulimics can expect negative consequences from both binging and purging.
Among the more frequent consequences of bulimia nervosa are heartburn, fatigue, dizziness, fainting episodes, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and muscle cramps. Men, women or children suffering from bulimia nervosa might also develop calluses on the backs of their hands, which grow callused because bulimics routinely induce vomiting.
Dental issues can also arise when a person is suffering from bulimia nervosa. Enamel is likely to erode due to stomach acid on upper teeth.
Vomiting frequently also causes additional problems besides just the erosion of dental enamel. Those additional problems include:
Disturbances in electrolyte levels
Development of potentially fatal abnormalities in heart rhythm caused by abnormalities in electrolytes
Distention of the stomach is another potentially life-threatening problem that occurs among bulimics because the bingeing causes the stomach to tear. Similarly, the esophagus can also tear as a result of the frequent vomiting, which can also cause ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Eating disorders affect men, women and children. Those who are suffering, or suspect a friend or family member is suffering from an eating disorder, should consult a physician.