Long-Term Effects of Anorexia

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patch of snowdrop flowers almost blooming representing the overcoming of anorexia

The long-term effects of anorexia can impact that person's life physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially for years to come. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), eating disorders are one of the most deadly mental illnesses. Even if the individual receives treatment and recovers from the eating disorder, they may experience several long-term effects of anorexia. These effects can be psychological, physical, and neurological. 

Long-Term Psychological Effects of Anorexia

People with anorexia nervosa often have a distorted body image. They may believe they are not thin enough to conform to society's standards for beauty or thin enough to perform as expected in a sport or other activity.

The long-term psychological effects of anorexia can include mental health disorders like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts

This drive for perfectionism or control can continue after the person receives anorexia treatment. That's why it's important to address potential underlying causes for an eating disorder in any treatment program. Learn more about the warning signs of anorexia and how you can spot it in loved ones or yourself.

Seen most commonly in young adults, a phenomenon called drunkorexia is a harmful practice of restricting food intake to compensate for alcohol consumption, leading to physical and mental health issues. When combined with the long-term effects of anorexia, the consequences can be severe, including malnutrition, a weakened immune system, and organ damage. Learn more about drunkorexia here.

Long-Term Physiological Effects of Anorexia

Because people with anorexia aren't eating much food, they're not getting all the nutrients their bodies need. This malnourishment can cause long-lasting physical health problems, including:

  • Bone density loss and osteoporosis
  • Muscle loss and weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Fertility problems 
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Heart problems
  • Poor circulation
  • Weak immune system
  • Organ damage
  • Insomnia
  • Intestinal and digestive problems

When people recover from anorexia and get their lives back on track, some of these issues can resolve themselves. For example, their hair may grow back and they may start to sleep well again. They can build muscle and regain strength.

Other issues, like bone density loss and heart problems, can be permanent. A weakened immune system leaves the person susceptible to other diseases. Organ damage can lead to organ failure.

These physical health problems cause additional medical challenges and ongoing complications for the rest of the person's life. The longer the person lives with anorexia, the more severe these problems can become. Take our anorexia test to evaluate whether your symptoms align with the characteristics of anorexia nervosa.

Long-Term Neurological Effects

The long-term effects of anorexia can include nerve damage. People with anorexia could experience numbness or tingling in the hands and feet or even seizures. Malnourishment has consequences for the brain as well as the body. 

If the brain isn't getting enough energy, the person may feel sluggish or find it hard to concentrate. Without proper nourishment over time, the brain is forced to change how it operates. In many cases, these changes aren't reversible. 

Treatment Options for Anorexia

In severe cases, anorexia may require hospitalization. Patients might need to be monitored if they've developed cardiac health problems, osteoporosis, or other mental health disorders. 

Anorexia treatment is multifaceted and customized to meet the individual's needs. It could include:

  • Group, family, and individual therapy sessions
  • Nutritional counseling and meetings with a dietitian
  • Meal planning guidance
  • Psychiatric care to help identify underlying factors that contribute to the anorexia
  • Metabolic testing
  • Body composition analysis
  • Partial hospitalization

It is crucial to recognize that bulimia nervosa bears similarities to other eating disorders like anorexia. While acknowledging these similarities, it is equally important to understand the differences between bulimia and anorexia to ensure appropriate treatment can be provided.

Learn More About Anorexia Treatment at The Kahm Center

At The Kahm Center, we specialize in partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP) for the treatment of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. We use metabolic testing and body composition analysis in addition to group and individual therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more.

The Kahm Center's professionals take a patient-centered approach with small group sizes and individualized treatment plans. Our goal is the well-being and recovery of our patients. Contact us today to learn more about our facility, highly-trained staff, and customized intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs.

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