Physical Problems And Medical Complications

People may experience numerous physical problems from eating disorders, as well as many medical issues from eating disorders. Some things you might expect, like excessive weight loss or weight gain, lack of energy, and nutritional deficiencies. Did you know other problems might occur, too, like hair loss, swollen hands and feet (due to water retention), ulcers, pancreatitis, liver damage, tooth erosion, and heart problems, including cardiac failure? Here are some of the commonly-seen physical problems from eating disorders:


Depression from Anorexia
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)
  • Skin problems
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach pains
  • Decreased metabolic rate
  • Edema (water retention)
  • Lanugo (fine downy hair)
  • Loss of bone mass
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Osteoporosis
  • Insomnia
  • Anemias
  • Infertility
  • Depression
  • Cathartic colon (caused from laxative abuse)
  • Low potassium (most common cause of nocturnal cardiac arrest)
  • Cardiac arrest and death


Damaged Teeth From Bulimia
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and irregular menstruation
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Depression
  • Tears of esophagus
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach pain and bloating
  • Erosion of teeth enamel
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Parotid gland enlargement
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Cathartic colon (caused from laxative abuse)
  • Edema (swelling of hands and feet)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chest pains
  • Development of peptic ulcers and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Gastric dilation and rupture
  • Abrasions on back of hands and knuckles
  • Anemias
  • Cardiac arrest and death


  • Weight gain
  • Hypertension or fatigue
  • Heart ailments
  • Mobility problems
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Varicose veins
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Embolism
  • Sleep depravation
  • Toxemia during pregnancy
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • High Cholesterol levels
  • Cardiac arrest and death

Because there are so many serious medical issues from eating disorders, you should see a doctor as soon as possible if you have, or think you might have, an eating disorder. Medical care from a physician educated about, and experienced in, the treatment of patients with eating disorders will be a critical component of your care. Ask your general practitioner, internist, or therapist to refer you to a medical doctor if you’re not sure who to see for treatment of your eating disorder.


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-Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends by Michelle Siegel, Ph.D., Judith Brisman, Ph.D., and Margot Weinshel, Ph.D. – Harper & Row Publishers, NY, 1988
-Walking A Thin Line by Pam Vredevelt and Joyce Whitman – Mullnomah Press, Oregon 1985
-Eating Disorders Handout – Sudbury General Hospital Eating Disorders Clinic (information for handout obtain from NEDIC)