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Can Eating Disorders Cause Heart Problems

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Heart Problems Caused By Eating Disorders

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Cardiovascular complications in eating disorders are common. Since eating disorders involve unhealthy behaviors related to food and exercise, overtime this can damage the body and heart.

The more the body and brain are subject to malnourishment, the more the organs will suffer extreme impairment. An eating disorder can also affect the liver enzyme levels that are directly linked to heart dysfunction.

Heart Rates And Eating Disorders

One area that is a constant concern with those with eating disorders has to do with heart rate, in particular, low heart rate. This issue is generally observed at low body weight but can happen anytime there has been a significant amount of weight loss. In general, as one loses weight one loses muscle mass. With the loss of muscle mass, there may be loss of heart mass as the heart is a muscle.

The body, being generally wise, will try to preserve the heart as long as it can, but under the stress of continued weight loss or malnutrition wasting of the heart muscle can occur. Initially, the heart may beat more quickly to compensate for being a smaller size, but this is quite exhausting for the heart and ultimately can lead to further damage. To conserve heart muscle and thus keep the entire body functioning as well as possible there will be a slowing of heart rate, called bradycardia. Bradycardia can be very dangerous and is one of the leading causes of illness, hospitalization, and death for those with eating disorders. Heart rates in the 40s or lower are particularly dangerous. As heart rate goes down the risk of arrhythmia or abnormal rhythm of the heart, becomes more likely. A heart rate in the 40s will often fall into the 30s while asleep, thus increasing these risks. This is why clients with heart rates in their 40s will be hospitalized, both for safety in the moment and for overnight monitoring.


Physical Signs And Symptoms Of An Eating Disorder

Those struggling with an eating disorder may have some, but not all, of the following physical signs and symptoms. Presence of any of the signs that your loved one may be struggling is cause for serious concern and you should encourage them to seek professional help.

  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
  • Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints
  • Menstrual irregularitiesmissing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Abnormal laboratory findings
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Swelling around area of salivary glands
  • Fine hair on body
  • Thinning of hair on head, dry and brittle hair
  • Cavities, or discoloration of teeth, from vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cold, mottled hands and feet or swelling of feet
  • Poor wound healing

Signs of Bulimia Nervosa

Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

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Cardiac Complications Of Eating Disorders

Why an EKG?

Why do you check my blood pressure lying down AND standing up?

Why am I dizzy when I stand?

We often hear these questions from our clients with eating disorders. The answer? Because eating disorders can affect every part of the body, including the heart. Cardiac complications may occur as a result of the malnutrition, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances commonly associated with these disorders.

When You Need To Go To The Hospital

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Rarely, health problems from binge eating disorder can be serious enough that you need to get treated in a hospital. Here are some signs you need medical help right away:

  • You’ve suddenly gained or lost a lot of weight in a very short period of time.
  • You’ve thought about hurting yourself.
  • You can’t change the way you eat, even with help from doctors, family, and friends.
  • You feel depressed or anxious.
  • You’ve been using drugs or alcohol to cope with your emotions.

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Complications That Arise From Binge Eating Disorder

Like individuals with bulimia, those with binge eating disorder consume large amounts of food in a single sitting, but they do not vomit or otherwise purge the food. Because individuals with this disorder consume large amounts of fat and carbohydrates, they are often morbidly obese.The medical issues that arise due to binge eating disorder are similar to those of clinical obesity. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, individuals with binge eating disorder have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. They are also at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and gallbladder disease.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms Causes Diagnosis Treatment And Prevention

Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia for short, is an eating disorder that involves severe food restriction.

People with this disorder have an intense fear of gaining weight. Theyre willing to use unhealthy and extreme measures to control their calorie intake.

Sometimes people with anorexia will also exercise compulsively, vomit after eating, use laxatives, take medicine, or binge eat.

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Weight Gain And Obesity

Weight gain is common when you binge eat. Two-thirds of those with the disorder are overweight. You put on extra pounds by eating lots of food in a short period of time and not burning the calories off with exercise.

A lot of people who binge feel bad about their weight, too. This leads to low self-esteem, which can cause more overeating. Being overweight or obese can also raise your chances of getting long-term health problems such as:

  • Breathing that stops many times during the night

How to Watch for It

Your clothes will start to feel snug. The numbers on your bathroom scale will go up. Your doctor will check to see how much body fat you have by measuring:

  • The ratio of your weight to your height
  • How big your belly is using a tape measure placed above your hips and around the middle of your body

You will get tests to check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels — all of which can be harmed by weight gain.

What to Do About It

Treatment for binge eating starts with figuring out why you’re overeating. You need to do this before you try to lose weight. Your doctor and therapist can help you get started. Next, plan to talk to a dietitian to come up with a diet and exercise program you can stick with. Ask them for tips on how you can stay at a healthy weight.

Can Your Heart Recover From Bulimia And Other Eating Disorders

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The body is incredibly resilient and studies have shown that bradycardia, low blood pressure and most other complications associated with anorexia are reversible with medically-supervised nutritional rehabilitation and weight restoration . One study conducted with adolescent women found that, despite all participants experiencing serious cardiac complications due to their eating disorder, weight restoration and refeeding reversed this damage .

This can lead to hope that despite the serious, life-threatening consequences that eating disorder behaviors can have on the heart, there can be healing in eating disorder recovery.


Journal of Eating Disorders, Heart Views, The Eating Disorder Trap. Eating Disorder Hope, Circulation,American Heart Association. ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders and Severe Malnutrition. Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Page Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 29, 2021

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Can Eating Disorders Cause Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure, also referred to as hypotension, is considered blood pressure that is less than 90/50 . Hypotension can undoubtedly occur due to eating disorders, as it is caused by the heart muscle weakening. Malnutrition and dehydration can commonly cause the heart muscle to weaken. When individuals experience low blood pressure, their body does not have enough fluid volume to push blood throughout the whole body, leading to impaired functioning.

What Is An Eating Disorder

Eating disorders are a range of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. They might start with an obsession with food, body weight, or body shape .

In severe cases, eating disorders can cause serious health consequences and may even result in death if left untreated. In fact, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second to opioid overdose .

People with eating disorders can have a variety of symptoms. Common symptoms include severe restriction of food, food binges, and purging behaviors like vomiting or overexercising.

Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender at any life stage, theyre increasingly common in men and gender nonconforming people. These populations often seek treatment at lower rates or may not report their eating disorder symptoms at all .

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Bulimia Also Causes Medical Issues

Unlike patients with anorexia, individuals with bulimia do eat, sometimes consuming thousands of calories in a single binging session. In an effort to maintain control and prevent weight gain, they then purge the food by vomiting or abusing laxatives, emetics or diuretics. This binge-and-purge cycle may happen several times per week or, in severe cases, several times per day. While individuals with bulimia are less likely to be underweight and are sometimes overweight, bulimia does cause major medical issues when left untreated.Many of the medical issues that stem from bulimia occur due to frequent vomiting. When individuals with bulimia vomit, over time, the stomach acid erodes the enamel of the teeth, leading to decay. Some individuals experience ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease. The esophagus becomes raw and inflamed, and forceful vomiting has the potential to rupture the esophagus. In rare cases, over-stretching the stomach causes gastric rupture, a condition in which the contents of the stomach spill into the abdominal cavity, constituting a medical emergency.

Both vomiting and laxative abuse lead to electrolyte imbalances which affect the heart rate and the function of other major organs, including the kidneys. Like individuals with anorexia, people with untreated bulimia are at risk of heart failure, kidney failure and death.

What Are The Signs Of An Eating Disorder

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Different types of eating disorders have different symptoms, but each condition involves an extreme focus on issues related to food and eating, and some involve an extreme focus on weight.

This preoccupation with food and weight may make it hard to focus on other aspects of life .

Mental and behavioral signs may include :

  • dramatic weight loss

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Center For Discovery Can Help

If you, or someone you love, suffer from the long-term health risks of anorexia or another eating disorder, call Center for Discovery immediately at 800.760.3934. Clearly, the effects of anorexia and other eating disorders are severe, and they can be life threatening. Weve been guiding families to long-lasting recovery for nearly 20 years. Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit your familys needs.

Dangerously High And Low Heart Rates

When the heart rate is persistently low or high , it becomes more prone to developing an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. Add any electrolyte abnormalities that may result from not getting enough nourishment, and any arrhythmic episode could result in a heart attack, or cardiac arrest.

Research has found bradycardia anorexia in up to 44% of hospitalized patients in one study, and hypotension in 16% of patients in another.

The heart must pump so many times per minute and create a high enough blood pressure to get blood to tissues within the body, including our vital organs. When the heart rate is too low, blood does not circulate throughout the body. Tissues and organs can go without freshly oxygenated blood only for a few seconds before they become oxygen deprived and die.

While low heart rate is an adapted response to prolonged starvation and negative energy balance, those with AN can have episodes of high heart rate as well. This can be from severe iron deficiency or because of an infection, which the body is more prone to when it isnât getting adequate nourishment.

Things like pneumonia, cellulitis, and appendicitis cause our immune and cardiovascular systems to increase the heart rate. When someone with AN develops a resting high heart rate, a work-up should begin in the hospital setting to investigate for the infectious cause.

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Your Heart Canrecover From An Eating Disorder But Theres A Caveat

There is hope if you struggle with an eating disorder. The vast majority of complications from eating disorders, including heart conditions, normalize during recovery, which is why early treatment is critical.

However, for people with anorexia, about 20 percent will struggle with a prolapse of the mitral valve, which is the heart valve between the upper and lower chambers on the left side of the heart.

Mitral valve prolapse can absolutely persist even after weight gain, cautioned Haythe.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, dont wait until you feel sick enough. Educate yourself, because it might just help you to understand how crucial it is to seek help.

What Causes Eating Disorders

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Experts believe that a variety of factors may contribute to eating disorders.

One of these is genetics. People who have a sibling or parent with an eating disorder seem to be at an increased risk of developing one .

Personality traits are another factor. In particular, neuroticism, perfectionism, and impulsivity are three personality traits often linked to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, according to a 2015 research review .

Other potential causes include perceived pressures to be thin, cultural preferences for thinness, and exposure to media promoting these ideals .

More recently, experts have proposed that differences in brain structure and biology may also play a role in the development of eating disorders. In particular, levels of the brain messaging chemicals serotonin and dopamine may be factors .

However, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Anorexia nervosa is likely the most well-known eating disorder.

It generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood and tends to affect more women than men .

People with anorexia generally view themselves as overweight, even if theyre dangerously underweight. They tend to constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods, and severely restrict their calorie intake.

Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include :

However, its important to note that weight should not be the major focus of diagnosing someone with anorexia.

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Most Common Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia nervosa: generally develops during adolescence or young adulthood. Individuals who suffer from anorexia usually view themself as overweight, even if they are not, so have an intense fear of gaining weight. Since their perception of weight is distorted, they tend to use extreme efforts to control their weight.
  • Bulimia nervosa: tends to develop during adolescence and early adulthood. Individuals living with bulimia frequently eat unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, and then they purge to compensate for the calories theyve consumed. They also tend to use laxatives, diuretics, enemas, and excessive exercise to control their weight.
  • Binge eating disorder: the most common chronic illness among adolescents. It typically develops then or during early adulthood but can surface later in life as well. This disorder is similar to bulimia, where individuals feel a lack of control during their binge eating. Also, they may not make nutritious food choices during the binges, which can increase the risk of heart complications and type 2 diabetes.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder : when someone has the signs of eating disorders, but they do not meet the full criteria for a diagnosis of these disorders. One example of OSFED is orthorexia.

Extreme undernourishment and heart complications should be assessed for cardiac abnormalities early on in heart care treatment. As an eating disorder progresses, the red flags are easier to spot.

Low Heart Rate And Anorexia

A common cardiac complication associated with anorexia nervosa, low heart rate, is observed in as many as 95 percent of patients.

Unlike other mental health disorders, eating disorders have a high prevalence of parallel medical complications. This is especially true of patients suffering from anorexia nervosa , since nearly all of the bodys vital organs and systems are adversely affected by sustained starvation and malnutrition.

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People With Eating Disorders Can Suffer Cardiac Arrest

Malnourishment often leads to complications with the heart.

Bradycardia and low blood pressure are the two most common heart issues seen in eating disorders especially anorexia, said Dr. Jennifer Haythe, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Columbia and co-director of the Womens Center for Cardiovascular Health. As patients with anorexia lose weight, they lose cardiac muscle mass.

Due to these cardiac conditions stemming from lack of nutrition, people may have fainting spells. These conditions are easily remedied through proper nutrition. However, they can also lead to more dangerous heart conditions if untreated. The most frequent and deadliest of severe heart complications seen in eating disorders is sudden cardiac arrest.

How Anorexia Nervosa Can Affect Heart Rates

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Those who struggle with anorexia nervosa severely restrict what they eat due to an intense fear of gaining weight and distorted perception of their bodies. Extreme caloric restriction can cause serious health complications, including affecting heart rates, and damaging the heart. But early intervention and effective treatment can help restore health and lead to recovery.

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The Risk Of Having A Heart Attack When You Have An Eating Disorder

Usually, when we think about heart attack patients, we envision older peoplemiddle age or older. We typically think of underlying causes being a high-fat diet, high cholesterol, obesity, or too much stress.

Usually, this is the case most young, fit people don’t have to worry about having a heart attack. Unfortunately, with an eating disorder, all bets are off. Even for children and teens, the risk of having a heart attack is greatly increased when an eating disorder is involved.

17 Year Old Suffers Heart Attack

Jeanette Suros was only 17 years old and very athletic when she suffered a heart attack. In an essay published in Teen Vogue, she writes that she struggled with body dysmorphia issues for as long as she remembered. She restricted calories so severely that she went into cardiac arrest. Every organ in her body was failing.

Even with that glaring warning sign, Suros went on to have 12 relapses requiring hospitalization before she started on the road to recovery.

Physical Activity Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy

Tommy Kelly, a semi-professional soccer player from Scotland, developed an eating disorder after losing his mother and grandfather at the age of 17. After struggling with anorexia and bulimia for three years, he suffered a heart attack at the age of 20.

Kelly shared his story with The Telegraph UK. The incident ended his career, and well into his 30’s now, he’s continued to struggle with recovery.

What Eating Disorders Do to Your Heart

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