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Medical complications from anorexia nervosa are numerous and serious. At its most severe, it can be fatal. Death can occur suddenly as a result of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or electrolyte imbalances. The most frequent causes of death are suicide and complications of the malnutrition associated with anorexia nervosa. Starvation can cause damage to vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and brain. Pulse rate and blood pressure drop. Nutritional deprivation, along with purging, causes electrolyte abnormalities such as low potassium and low sodium. Nutritional deprivation also leads to calcium loss from bones, which can become brittle and prone to breakage (osteoporosis). Nutritional deprivation also leads to decreased brain volume. In the worst-case scenario, people suffering with anorexia nervosa can literally starve themselves to death. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

Physical (medical) complications of anorexia nervosa:

Heart problems, such as mitral valve prolapse, abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure
Bone loss, increasing risk of fractures later in life
Lung problems resembling emphysema
Absence of a period in females
Decreased testosterone in males
Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating or nausea
Electrolyte abnormalities, such as low blood potassium, sodium and chloride
Kidney problems

In addition to physical complications, anorexia nervosa may cause the following:

Anxiety disorders
Obsessive-compulsive disorders
Personality disorders
Drug abuse

If you need help or you suspect someone you know is suffering from anorexia nervosa, please contact one of the following for more information:

The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)

National Institute of Mental Health
Phone: (866) 615-NIMH (6464)

National Mental Health Information Center
Phone: (800) 789-2647

Academy for Eating Disorders
Phone: (847) 498-4274

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
Phone: (847) 831-3438

National Eating Disorders Association
Phone: (800) 931-2237


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