Eating Disorder: Types, Symptoms, Medical Complications and Their Consequences

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Depressed young lady having eating disorder, comforting herself with sweets on sofa at home
Depressed young lady having eating disorder, comforting herself with sweets on sofa at home

Despite the fact that “eating disorder” is in the name, eating disorders are more than just a problem with food. They’re complex mental health disorders that frequently demand the assistance of medical and psychiatric professionals in order to change course. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, from the American Psychiatric Association, describes these conditions. An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States have or have had an eating disorder at some point in their lives. This article discusses the signs of six of the most common eating disorders.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a category of mental conditions that cause people to acquire bad eating habits. They may begin with a preoccupation with food, body weight, or body form. Eating disorders can have serious health consequences if left untreated, and in extreme cases, they can even lead to death.

Eating disorders can present themselves in a number of ways. The majority, on the other hand, involve severe food restriction, binge eating, or purging behaviors like vomiting or excessive exercise. Although eating disorders can affect people of any gender and at any age, they are more common in teenagers and young women. Up to 13% of teenagers may have had at least one eating disorder by the age of 20.

The symptoms and experiences of two people with the same eating disorder can be rather diverse. However, the following are the most prevalent and easily identifiable signs and symptoms that match the diagnostic criteria for each of the four recognized eating disorders: 

1. Anorexia Nervosa

The most well-known eating disorder is anorexia nervosa. It usually develops in youth or early adulthood, and it affects more women than men. People with anorexia believe they are overweight, even though they are dangerously underweight. They tend to keep a close eye on their weight, avoid particular foods, and carefully limit their calorie intake. 

Symptoms: 

  • In the context of age, sex, development, and physical health, food restriction leads to significantly low body weight.
  • Fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Fasting or intensive exercise are examples of persistent behaviors that prevent weight growth despite a low weight.
  • Self-evaluation or a prolonged failure to recognize the danger of present low body weight can cause a disturbed experience of one’s body weight or shape.
  • Binge eating and purging behaviors are examples of restricting behavior.

Medical Complications and Their Consequences: 

  • Depressed mood, social disengagement, irritability, insomnia, and a decreased desire in sex are all symptoms of depression.
  • Food-related and non-food-related obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Height and stature have been compromised.
  • Low body mass index.
  • Puberty is delayed, and there is a lack of development.
  • Unbalanced hormones
  • Stomach pains, bloating, constipation, and acid reflux are all gastrointestinal issues.
  • Disturbances in vital signs such as dangerously low blood pressure
  • Heart muscle loss and/or weakness
  • Palpitations in the heart and chest discomfort
  • Bradycardia (abnormally slow heart rate) or tachycardia (abnormally fast heart rate) (abnormally elevated heart rate)
  • Insufficiency of the heart

2. Bulvimia Nervosa

Bulvimia Nervosa is an eating disorder is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory actions, such as self-induced vomiting, to counteract or compensate for the effects of binge eating.

Symptoms

  • Binge eating is defined as consuming big amounts of food repeatedly while feeling out of control of one’s eating pattern.
  • Purging behavior, or the use of inappropriate compensatory actions to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other drugs, fasting, or excessive exercise, is a common occurrence.
  • At least once a week, binge eating and purge cycles occur.
  • Uncertainty about one’s bodily weight or shape, possibly influenced by self-evaluation
  • BMI may be in the normal or overweight range. 

Medical Complications and Their Consequences: 

  • Suicide risk is higher.
  • Impaired mental abilities
  • At least once a week, binge eating and purge cycles occur.
  • Gag reflex is weakened, and swallowing is difficult.
  • Tears in the oesophagus
  • Constipation, loss of bowel function, GI bleeding, acid reflux, gastric rupture, and rectal prolapse are all gastrointestinal problems.
  • Infertility
  • Births that are premature and/or have a low birth weight
  • Cavities, acute tooth sensitivity, enamel loss, and bleeding gums are all dental issues.
  • Fingers that have become calloused or scarred
  • Ruptured blood vessels or retinal detachment are examples of ophthalmologic problems.
  • Electrolyte imbalance and chronic dehydration
  • Pancreatitis

3. Binge Eating Disorder

BED is a significant eating disorder marked by recurrent binge eating without the use of incorrect weight-control methods.

Symptoms: 

  • Binge eating is defined as consuming big amounts of food repeatedly while feeling out of control of one’s eating pattern.
  • Binge eating episodes are characterized by eating much faster than usual, eating until uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone because after an episode, one may be embarrassed by how much one is eating, or one may feel disgusted with oneself, unhappy, or very guilty. Binge eating practices cause significant distress.
  • Approximately once a week, episodes occur.
  • Binge eating is not linked to the employment of ineffective compensatory behaviors like those seen in bulimia. 

Medical Complications and Their Consequences: 

  • Health-related quality of life and life satisfaction are deteriorating.
  • Obesity or weight gain
  • Blood pressure that is too high
  • Cholesterol levels are high.
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes mellitus type 2.

4. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

A major eating disorder characterized by eating and feeding problems that lead to considerable weight loss and associated medical concerns.

Symptoms: 

  • Eating or feeding disturbances not better explained by a lack of available food or a culturally sanctioned habit, such as an apparent lack of interest in eating or food, avoiding food based on its sensory features, or anxiety about aversive consequences of eating
  • Failure to achieve adequate nutritional and energy requirements on a regular basis
  • Significant weight loss, nutritional inadequacy, reliance on enteral feeding or oral supplements, and/or marked interference with psychosocial functioning are all signs of a serious health problem.
  • Lack of a distorted view of one’s own body weight or shape
  • Restrictive, selective, choosy, or perseverant eating are all terms used to characterize eating behavior.

Medical Complications and Their Consequences: 

  • Loss of weight or slowed growth
  • Generalized emotional difficulties, often known as “food avoidance emotional disorder,” are a type of generalized emotional difficulty.
  • Anorexia nervosa medical problems and associated symptoms are mirrored. 

Pica

Pica is another eating disorder characterized by the consumption of non-food items. Pica patients have a strong need for non-food items including ice, mud, soil, chalk, soap, paper, hair, fabric, wool, pebbles, laundry detergent, or cornstarch. Pica can affect both adults and toddlers and teenagers. However, this ailment is most commonly seen in youngsters, pregnant women, and people with mental illnesses.

Pica patients may be more susceptible to food poisoning, infections, stomach injuries, and nutritional deficits. Pica can be lethal depending on the items consumed. Pica, on the other hand, requires that eating non-food substances is not a common component of someone’s culture or religion. Furthermore, it must not be deemed a socially acceptable activity by a group of people. 

The sections above are intended to help you understand the most prevalent eating disorders and refute popular misconceptions about them. Eating disorders are common mental illnesses that require treatment. If left untreated, they can be harmful to health. If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, seek treatment from a healthcare provider who specializes in eating disorders.

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