Eating disorders today can have a tendency to be minimized, disregarded or altogether unnoticed, however, they are a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. Whether you or someone you love is struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or another eating disorder, this ailment can have dire consequences on physical health if left untreated.
You might be asking yourself, “what happens if an eating disorder goes untreated?” In this article, we will touch upon some of the dangers to be aware of if an eating disorder is to be untreated.
Damage to the cardiovascular system
When the body lacks the necessary calories it requires for fuel, it targets your existing tissue to obtain the energy it needs to survive— essentially eating itself. This takes a toll on the heart as the whole body slows its functioning, making it impossible to maintain a healthy blood pressure and pulse. This can lead to low blood pressure, fatigue, fainting and even heart failure.
The heart is the body’s most important muscle. The act of purging, or somehow expelling food intake after eating which is common in bulimia, strips the body of essential electrolytes that are necessary for proper muscle function and performance. This decreases heart function and can have severe and lasting effects on the whole body.
Impact on the gastrointestinal system
Your gastrointestinal system operates on a cycle of digestion and expulsion. In the case of an eating disorder, this cycle is disrupted by unnatural and oftentimes invasive forms of expulsion, starvation of the body or both. This can lead to:
- Bacterial infections;
- Stomach pain;
- Failure to digest food.
Those with eating disorders can also become constipated, for two potential reasons. Constipation may be the result of a lack of energy in the intestinal muscles, rendering them unable to pass food. It could also be the consequence of a lack of food altogether which is needed to stimulate the process of digestion.
Your brain, like the rest of your body, needs energy to function. Prolonged starvation or poor nutrition can result in the destruction of neurons and even decreased brain volume. Anorexia-induced brain damage has been linked with dementia, seizures and problems understanding language.
Failure to supply the brain with enough power can also lead to numbness in your extremities due to damaged lipids. Muscle cramping and seizures may occur due to the imbalance of electrolytes.
Effects on endocrine system
Malnutrition due to eating disorders can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, causing a drastic hormonal fluctuation and leading to a myriad of health complications. A drop in hormones responsible for bone density can lead to osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak bones. The thyroid, an important center for all hormone regulation, may suffer due to a decreased amount of energy in the system.
Many people first develop eating disorders in their adolescent years. Puberty is responsible for numerous important developmental changes in both male and female bodies; this process of physical maturation is largely catalyzed by hormonal activity. An eating disorder can also result in low levels of testosterone and estrogen, which can have catastrophic consequences for the proper development of a young person.
Lastly, the body may become resistant to insulin as a result of an eating disorder, increasing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Impact on relationships
An eating disorder may negatively impact one’s relationships with friends and family. Habits associated with eating disorders may cause frustration and anxiety from concerned loved ones, causing the afflicted to feel isolated and confused. Those people in this position may find it difficult to maintain a healthy social life or meet social obligations for fear of judgement, ridicule, or unwelcome conversations.
As mentioned previously, an eating disorder disrupts the body’s ability to produce essential reproductive hormones. If left untreated, an eating disorder can cause major irregularity in a person’s hormonal balance, rendering them temporarily or permanently infertile. The repercussions of this are severe, and could impact the trajectory of your whole life.
Feelings of starvation or overeating can make it difficult to sleep properly. Even if someone with an eating disorder is able to fall asleep, they might be at risk for developing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the person momentarily stops breathing while sleeping.
It is important to note that compared to other psychiatric disorders, eating disorders have an unfortunately high death rate. It is critical to recognize the signs early and seek treatment immediately. If left untreated, anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders can result in death.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, Seeds of Hope is here to help. Take our confidential assessment or make an appointment today at (610) 644-6464. The journey to healing starts now.