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Medical Complications | The Center for Eating Disorders | Baltimore, Maryland

Eating Disorders Have Serious Medical Complications and We Have the Expertise to Respond


Eating Disorders rank among the most serious public health concerns in the United States and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.  Despite the risks, only about 10% of those affected get the treatment they need.  At the Center for Eating Disorders, treatment involves a specially trained interdisciplinary team of professionals and close monitoring of patients’ physical health and safety.

Eating disorders are complex  illnesses that can have harmful consequences for an individual’s social and emotional well-being but also greatly impact physical health. In fact, eating disorders can compromise every regulatory system in the body including the immune system, digestive system, skeletal system, cardiovascular system and the reproductive system. Common symptoms one might notice include dizziness/fainting, heart palpitations, hair loss, menstrual irregularities, fatigue and energy loss.  The effects on physical health can occur rapidly or may deteriorate over a longer period of time.  Some medical complications resolve quickly as a person recovers from their eating disorder and others, such as osteoporosis, can have lasting impacts.  

The earlier a person with an eating disorder seeks treatment, the more likely they are to begin healing emotionally and physically. Click on each of the links below to explores the signs, symptoms and health consequences associated with each diagnosis.

Eating Disorders & Suicide

In addition to medical causes like cardiac failure, its important to be aware that suicide accounts for as many as 1/3 of the deaths related to eating disorders (source: Academy for Eating Disorders).  In general, individuals struggling with eating disorders are more likely than those without eating disorders to think about and attempt suicide; their risk for suicide is approximately 23 times higher than the in the general population of the same age (Harris and Barraclough, 1997).  One particular study found the suicide rate for women with eating disorders was 58 times greater than those without (Herzog et al, 2000).  If you are suffering, do not struggle alone. Ask for help. 

"But my eating disorder isn't really that bad"

Commonly, if a person's symptoms don't fit into the diagnostic categories listed above they may feel that there is little to worry about with regards to medical complications or that their symptoms don't warrant the same level of concern. This is a dangerous misconception. In reality, most people with eating disorders will fall into the diagnostic category called Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders  (formerly referred to as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified or EDNOS). This diagnosis does not indicate an eating disorder of lesser severity or the absence of serious medical consequences.  In fact, recent research revealed that the elevated mortality risks for EDNOS were similar to those for anorexia nervosa.  The bottom line? All eating disorders have the potential to impact health and can have long-term medical consequences.

The health risks associated with eating disorders increase over time with the duration of the illness.  However, even individuals in the early stages of illness and those who look and feel well are still at risk.  Normal blood work and lab results should not completely alleviate or minimize concerns about medical risk for any patient with an eating disorder.

If you are experiencing health complications of your eating disorder do not wait to seek help.  Call (410) 938-5252 to find out about treatment options at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

If you are a physician or medical practitioner with questions about the medical monitoring of patients with eating disorders, please visit our For Professionals page or email our Co-Director, Steven Crawford, M.D. at scrawford@sheppardpratt.org.

9th Annual Poster Campaign

Love Your Tree is a creative arts campaign designed to help students develop positive body image, improved self-esteem and enhanced media literacy skills. Join the campaign today. Poster entries will be accepted through December 12, 2014.

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