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Anorexia Nervosa

What Medical Problems Can Anorexia Nervosa Cause?

Last modified: 
16/03/2012 - 14:58

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Many physical changes can occur with anorexia nervosa. A large number of these may be attributed to weight loss. Others are complications related to purging.

Changes in body metabolism associated with weight loss leads to a lowering of:

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing rate
  • Body temperature (which may result in feeling cold)

Other physical symptoms include:

  • Thinning or drying of the hair
  • "Lanugo" hair (a fine hair that develops on the face, back, or arms and legs)
  • Dry skin
  • Restlessness and reduced sleep
  • Yellowish color on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Lack of or infrequent menstrual periods

Self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse are associated with physical complications such as:

  • Swollen salivary glands (evident by swelling on the sides of the face)
  • Erosion of tooth enamel, increase in dental cavities
  • Fatigue
  • Body fluid loss
  • Bloating, swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Soreness or tears in the lining of the mouth or throat
  • Constipation, stomach cramps
  • Numbness and tingling in the limbs
  • Dizziness, weakness, fainting

Anorexia nervosa can lead to serious symptoms, such as heart problems, seizures, and kidney damage. Death may even occur as a result.

Osteoporosis (the loss of bone mass) is common in anorexia nervosa. It can lead to a variety of problems, including a tendency toward stress fractures and other bone abnormalities.

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.