Anorexia is typically thought of as a disease that affects younger women and teens, but individuals of any age or sex can suffer from this devastating eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa can turn deadly if not treated properly. Before continuing further, if you are suffering from anorexia nervosa, contact a licensed professional as soon as possible.
In this post we will review both the short-term side effects of anorexia and the long-term side effects of anorexia. If you’re looking for more information about anorexia nervosa treatment, read our post here or read our post about foods I recommend for anorexia refeeding.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Before we get into the side effects of anorexia, let’s define what anorexia nervosa is. Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as simply anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by extremely low body weight, a strong fear of gaining weight, and a distorted view of weight. A person suffering from anorexia nervosa strives to control their weight and their body shape, often using extreme ways to accomplish their goals that often significantly interfere with their daily life.
A person suffering from anorexia will severely limit their caloric intake, induce vomiting to limit how much calories they’ve consumed, or misuse laxatives, diet pills/aids, and/or diuretics or enemas.
Criteria for Diagnosing Anorexia Nervosa
According to DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition, a person must meet all of the following criteria to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa:
- Restriction of food intake leading to a loss in weight or a failure to gain weight, which results in a significantly low body weight expected for someone’s age, sex, and height
- Fear of becoming overweight or gaining weight
- Having a distorted view of themselves and their condition
Now that we’ve reviewed the criteria for diagnosing anorexia nervosa, let’s jump into some general side effects of anorexia.
General Side Effects of Anorexia
Anorexia can be a very scary eating disorder for sufferers. It can take over and cause a number of devastating side effects short and long-term.
While there are both short and long term side effects associated with anorexia, this section will include some general side effects that can occur in both the short and long term:
- Having mood swings
- Depression and anxiety, which can bring even more side effects such as: irritability, insomnia, depressed mood, social withdrawal, lowered interest in activities once loved, to name a few
- Having a low self-esteem and/or self-worth
- Performing poorly in school or work activities
- Relationships that suffer
- Avoiding or missing activities you normally enjoy
Short Term Side Effects of Anorexia
In this section, I will outline short term side effects of anorexia. These include:
- Having dry skin and hair
- Feelings of being nauseous
- Becoming dehydrated
- Losing weight
- Being constipated
- Feeling fatigued
- Feeling faint or passing out
- Not sleeping well or insomnia
- Feeling dizzy
- Depression and Anxiety
If you or a loved one are experiencing some of the above short term side effects of anorexia, I urge you to reach out. Seeking anorexia treatment early on will increase your chances of recovery and will lower your risk of more serious side effects we will discuss in the next section.
Long Term Effects of Anorexia
In this section, I will identify long term effects of anorexia. A person with untreated anorexia may experience serious health side effects such as:
- Developing anemia – A lacking of enough healthy red blood cells to properly operate
- Having weak or thinning bones, known as osteoporosis
- Getting seizures
- Developing issues with your thyroid
- Lacking enough vitamins and minerals for your body to function properly
- A lowering of potassium levels in your blood
- A lowering of testosterone in males
- Decrease in white blood cells, which can increase your risk of developing a serious infection
- A lack of menstruation in females, also known as Amenorrhea
- Suffering from poor teeth health such as tooth decay
- Lowering of muscle, causing a patient to feel weak
- Losing hair – significant hair loss can occur
- Potential heart failure caused by abnormally low blood pressure and heart rate
- Problems with your kidneys
- Anxiety and Depression worsening
- Taking one’s life (suicide)
- Dying from health complications
If you or a loved one are experiencing some of the above long term side effects of anorexia, I urge you to reach out immediately. Anorexia is life threatening and I urge you to seek proper treatment to overcome this deadly eating disorder.
Seeking Treatment for Anorexia
If you or a loved one suffer from anorexia, it may seem like a hopeless journey full of pain and disappointments. But I’m here to help, I’ve dedicated my life to helping individuals overcome deadly eating disorders like anorexia – a full recovery is within your grasp. There is hope!
I’m Dr. Amy Boyers, a Clinical Psychologist in Miami who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders (all types) and other serious, long-term mental health conditions, including addictions, bipolar disorder treatment, and OCD. I offer personalized and sophisticated eating disorder treatment services, individual and family psychotherapy, family member support and education, in-home meal support, coordination of a treatment service, and much more.