Common Medical Complications of Eating Disorders

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By: Debbie Diehl, RN

Patients with suspected eating disorders can present with multiple signs and symptoms.  Eating Disorder patients will have cognitive, behavioral and physical signs and symptoms. In patients with Eating Disorders you will see the restricting of food or fluids, binge-eating and or purging behaviors. Nutritional deficiencies will be common because of these behaviors. It is important to remember that an Eating Disorder can be life–threatening even if the patient is not showing obvious physical signs or symptoms. 

In general some signs and symptoms to be aware of are: weight loss, weakness, fatigue, hot or sweating episodes, dental problems, heartburn or reflux, vomiting  with or without blood, constipation and abdominal bloating or gas. Be alert to any cardiac problems a patient may present with such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, swelling in feet, hands or general edema, and problems with low or orthostatic blood pressure.

Eating Disorders are serious disorders with medical complications that can be life – threatening. When evaluating an Eating Disorder patient we look for any abnormalities in their cardiac condition such as bradycardia, arrhythmias, and tachycardia. All these conditions are measured by obtaining an Electrocardiograph or EKG/ECG. 

Other medical complications include: Hematologic changes (anemia), Renal Abnormalities which are caused by dehydration, Endocrine Abnormalities (Amenorrhea), Thyroid Abnormalities (hypothyroidism), Skeletal conditions (Osteoporosis), Cognitive changes, Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances (which can result in cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death), Tissue Damage from chronic vomiting and Neurological Abnormalities (seizures), and Depression

These are some of the medical complications associated with Eating Disorders. Because the medical side of eating disorders is much more involved than the few complications listed here, join us this Friday from 8am-12pm at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. Speakers will include Dr. Margherita Mascalo, MD, Medical Director from Denver ACUTE in partnership with Alabama’s chapter of International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals. To learn more about this event and register, please visit EventBrite.com. Hope to see you there! 

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