When we think of the medical issues associated with eating disorders, we tend to focus on the immediate pressing concerns including abnormal cardiac function, seizures from low blood sugar, and gastrointestinal bleeds from bulimic tendencies. Once the patient is stabilized, we then focus on the long-term consequences of the eating disorder such as osteopenia or osteoporosis.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and therefore, more likely to fracture, causing disability, chronic pain, and potential loss of stature. Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- Thinness or small frame.
- Family history of the disease.
- Having recently experienced menopause.
- Abnormal absence of menstrual periods.
- Prolonged use of certain medications, such as those used to treat lupus, asthma, thyroid deficiencies, and/or seizures.
- Low calcium intake.
- Lack of physical activity.
- Excessive alcohol intake.
Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because, if undetected, bone loss can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.
Osteoporosis and Eating Disorders
Unfortunately, individuals dealing with anorexia nervosa are at a high risk of developing osteoporosis. These individuals are experiencing nutritional and hormonal deficiencies and imbalances, which directly and negatively affect bone density. Extremely low body weight in females can cause the body to stop producing estrogen resulting in a condition known as amenorrhea, or absent menstrual periods. Low estrogen levels are heavy contributors to bone density loss.
In addition, individuals with anorexia often produce excessive amounts of adrenal hormone cortisol, which is known to trigger bone loss. Other problems, such as decrease in the production of growth hormone and other growth factors, low body weight, calcium deficiency, and malnutrition, may contribute to bone loss in girls and women with anorexia. Young girls with anorexia may be less likely to reach their peak bone density and therefore may be at an increased risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures throughout their life.
While osteoporosis is a severe problem, bone loss can be addressed and potentially reversed if recognized in early stages. However, once the patient does develop osteoporosis, there is no cure. The key is recognizing the problem early and taking the necessary steps to address the bone loss before things go too far.
Eating disorders are difficult on their own. Suffering further losses to one’s health, function, and well-being, years after the eating disorder has been addressed would be devastating for any individual. Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. Receiving the appropriate help and direction in eating disorder recovery can be a huge step forward in overall health!
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, do not hesitate to give us a call or explore our site for more information!