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Disordered Eating and Your Heart

How Anorexia Impacts Your Heart

Disordered eating affects and is affected by your physical, psychological and social health. Often times it stems from extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors related to weight and food and each of those components can cause consequences and health concerns in multiple areas of your life.

Anorexia nervosa, in particular, can be detrimental to your heart and heart damage is the most common reason for hospitalization in people with this form of disordered eating. Anorexia involves self-starvation and intense weight loss, which not only denies the body essential nutrients that inhibit function, but also forces the body to slow down to conserve energy. The heart specifically becomes smaller and weaker, making it more difficult to circulate blood at a healthy rate.

Other affects of anorexia on the heart include:

  • Abnormally slow heart rate (bradycardia) when weak heart muscles cannot pump at a healthy rate.
  • Low blood pressure as a result of slow heart rate.
  • Deteriorating heart muscle along with other muscles in the body, creating larger chambers and weaker walls, which in turn make pumping more difficult.
  • Loss of reflex to constrict blood vessels to raise blood pressure.
  • Increased risk of heart failure as a result of the above effects.

The other side effects of anorexia, which include osteoporosis, muscle loss, fatigue and weakness, can also impact your ability to live a lifestyle that prevents heart risk.

Heart Risks in Other Forms

People suffering from anorexia can sometimes also experience binging eating disorder as a form of disordered eating. While binging and purging most severely affects the digestive system, putting you at risk for gastric rupture, inflammation from frequent vomiting and irregular bowel movements, it also creates an imbalance of electrolytes in the body that can cause an irregular heartbeat or heart failure.

Binge eating disorder also has the same risks associated with obesity. Specifically, people dealing with binge eating often have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

Seeking Treatment for Disordered Eating

Treating disordered eating involves more than diet and nutrition. Effective prevention and treatment comes from addressing the emotional and social components along with the physical.

Early intervention can provide significant promise for recovery. Disordered eating can often become chronic and with time, the side effects can become more life-threatening.

If you notice disordered eating habits in your life or in that of a loved one, or if eating is impacting your happiness, ability to concentrate or everyday life, talk to a professional about what you are going through. Meeting with someone who specializes in disordered eating habits can make a significant impact on recovery.

“If someone is heavily restricting their caloric intake or they are routinely purging they can cause significant medical issues that in some cases can be irreversible,” says Katherine Walker, MS, LCPC, a therapist with Northwestern Medicine. “If the situation revolves more around disordered eating habits but the person is not yet restricting calories or purging then seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders may be enough to halt the behaviors and head off any major medical complications.”

It may be difficult to take that first step, but the most effective treatment for disordered eating is often a combination of therapy and the support of a nutritionist to ensure your emotional and physical needs are both met.