Consequences of Eating Disorders


Eating disorders can have a profoundly negative impact on an individual's quality of life. Self-image, interpersonal relationships, financial status, and job performance are often negatively affected. The extent to which these problems are an inherent part of the disorders or are secondary to it is unclear. The range of the negative effects does, however, highlight the critical importance of treatment.

Eating disorders are also associated with high rates of other co-existing psychiatric disorders, particularly mood disorders, and anxiety disorders. Bulimia nervosa may be particularly associated with alcohol and/or drug abuse problems.


Semi-starvation in anorexia nervosa can affect most organ systems. Physical signs and symptoms (in addition to the lack of menstrual periods in women) can include constipation, cold intolerance, abnormally low heart rate, abdominal distress, dryness of skin, hypotension, and fine body hair (lanugo). Anorexia nervosa causes anemia, kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular problems, changes in brain structure, and osteoporosis (i.e., inadequate bone calcium).

Self-induced vomiting seen in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can lead to swelling of salivary glands, electrolyte and mineral disturbances, and dental enamel erosion. Use of ipecac to induce vomiting can lead to extreme muscle weakness, including heart muscle weakness. Laxative abuse can lead to long lasting disruptions of normal bowel functioning. Rarer complications are tearing the esophagus, rupturing of the stomach, and life-threatening irregularities of the heart rhythm.