Eating disorders refers to a group of conditions that involve the preoccupation with weight and food that distracts from everyday life. There are a number of eating disorders; however, the most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, compulsive eating or binge eating disorder and ED-NOS or eating disorder not otherwise specified. Eating disorders cause serious problems that can have both emotional and physical ramifications. At their most severe, these disorders can be life-threatening. They can affect both men and women of all ages.
Causes, Risk Factors and Complications of Eating Disorders
There is no exact cause known for eating disorders. When you look at them as a psychological illness, it makes sense why there might be numerous causes that depend on the individual. Some of the possible causes thought to be responsible for eating disorders include: biology, psychological health, emotional health and societal issues. There also seems to be some hereditary link in eating disorders as people who have first-degree relatives with eating disorders seem more likely to develop one too.
Some of the most common risk factors for eating disorders include: being female, a teenager or young adult, family history of eating disorders, emotional and psychological disorders, obsession with dieting and transitions or big life changes. Certain people such as actors, athletes, models and dancers tend to be more prone to eating disorders because they are expected to meet certain requirements for weight and physical appearance.
Eating disorders actually produce a wide variety of different complications, and some of them can be life threatening. Severe eating disorders and long lasting eating disorders can cause some of the most severe complications. Some complications of eating disorders include: high or low blood pressure, kidney damage, severe tooth decay, digestive issues, bone loss, stunted growth, suicidal thoughts, absence of menstruation, depression, heart problems, organ failure and death. Because these complications are so serious, seeking professional medical help for this type of problem is absolutely essential.
Signs, Symptoms and Testsof Eating Disorders
The symptoms associated with eating disorders are unique to each individual eating disorder. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa, for example, focus on refusal to eat, denying hunger, intensely fearing weight gain, distorted self-image, excessive working out, fear of eating out, thin appearance, difficulty sleeping, menstrual irregularities and dehydration just to name a few. The symptoms associated with bulimia nervosa include: eating to discomfort, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, laxative use, going to the bathroom immediately after eating, dehydration, damaged gums and teeth and abnormal bowel function. The symptoms of binge-eating disorder involve: eating excessive amounts of food without trying to purge the food afterward through exercise or vomiting. Other symptoms of eating disorders in general can include: frequently eating alone, feeling that the eating is out of control, eating too quickly, eating to the point of pain or discomfort and eating much more than one should during a meal or a snack.
Treatment, Drugs and Prevention of Eating Disorders
Treatment for eating disorders will rely on the type of eating disorder being experienced. A typical eating disorder treatment plan will include nutrition education, psychotherapy and medical treatment. It is important to attain and maintain a healthy weight as well as understand healthy nutrition habits. Psychotherapy and counseling are also important in order to prevent a recurrence of the eating disorder. Some medications can also be used to control urges, but there is no real medical cure for eating disorders.
Tammoima Gichana PharmD, MBA, MB(ASCP),RPh.