Complications of Anorexia

Several physical complications are associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Many of these problems are caused by behavior aimed toward controlling body weight in an unhealthy manner and most of these problems resolve once eating habits and weight have returned to normal.

Starvation Symptoms Include:

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Impaired concentration
  • Indecisiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of control when food is available
  • Depression
  • Depressed immune system
  • Reduced energy expenditure
  • Water retention
  • Binge eating
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fluid and mineral abnormalities
  • Constipation due to low calories and fiber intake
  • Slower emptying of food from the stomach, which can cause bloating and early satiety during a meal
  • Modified sense of taste, leading to changes in appetite
  • High cholesterol levels (This does not signify a cholesterol problem and does not warrant a low-cholesterol diet)
  • Amenorrhea, related to overall malnutrition

The human body needs food to function. Prolonged starvation can cause a great deal of damage. The medical complications associated with anorexia include:


Nearly all women with anorexia will experience amenorrhea, which is a cessation of the menstrual cycle. The body knows it could not possibly sustain additional life, so it negates its own ability to reproduce. Although a woman’s ability to bare children usually returns once sufficient weight is gained, there is no guarantee.


Human blood needs certain nutrients to remain healthy and vital. Without sufficient nutrition, anemia occurs. Fortunately, once healthy eating becomes the norm, the condition resolves.

Dry Skin And Hair Loss

Those with anorexia usually do not consume enough fluids and the result is dehydration. This causes the skin to become dry and flaky. The scalp often becomes bald or patchy. Conversely, hair growth increases on other parts of the torso, which is an attempt by the body to keep itself warm.

Feeling Cold

Those with anorexia usually feel cold and it is not uncommon for their fingers to appear blue. In fact, their body temperature often registers a couple of degrees below what is considered normal and healthy: 98 degrees.

Slowness Of Thought/Brain Shrinkage

Most women with anorexia find it difficult to think straight, and especially, think quickly. This is caused by calorie depletion. Once fuel is returned, so does quickness of thought. Another consequence of starvation is brain shrinkage; unfortunately, it is permanent. Studies show that anorexia can cause a drop in actual IQ.


Bones need calcium and other nutrients to remain strong and healthy. When deprived, these degenerative bone conditions result. Most bone loss is permanent, leaving even young women at severe risk of bone fractures and spinal curvature.

Heart Rhythm Abnormalities, Heart Attacks

When the heart is undergoing stress, electrolyte abnormalities can trigger arrhythmias. A starving body attacks its own muscle tissue in an effort to stay alive. In the case of extreme starvation, the heart simply stops.

The important thing to keep in mind is that many of these medical complications can improve once a person recovers from anorexia. And for those that don't resolve, the sooner a person seeks treatment, the less severe the complication will be.

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For additional information about the treatment of eating and anxiety disorders, please call to speak to an Intake Coordinator at 866-390-5100 or complete the form below and we will contact you with the information you need.

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