Cachexia is a very serious, complex condition that occurs with anorexia nervosa (AN) and other disorders. Also called a “wasting disorder,” cachexia involves body mass loss, muscle loss, extreme fatigue, weakness, and lack of appetite. It can be caused by systemic inflammation from an underlying disease, such as cancer, heart failure, kidney disease, COPD, and AIDS, and is a result of the disease process itself, not intentional efforts to lose weight.
Cachexia results from a combination of many factors, including inflammation and not getting enough energy and nutrients from food, as part of the body’s response to fighting the associated disease. (1) There is a change in metabolism that causes the body to break down muscle and fat tissues, and it affects all organs, as well. (2) It can be life-threatening if prolonged.
Weight loss, extreme fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite are warning signs of cachexia. And blood tests will usually show low levels of white blood cells, serum albumin, and total protein, altered levels of uric acid, and elevated levels of C-reactive protein and inflammatory markers.
Yes, anorexia nervosa can cause cachexia. People who have AN don’t consume enough food to keep the body operating normally. This puts the body in a state of distress, and results in overproduction of certain proteins that regulate the immune system’s response and control inflammation. These then turn against the body and attack essential tissues, breaking down muscle, fat, and even organ tissue. (4)
A comprehensive, multidisciplinary treatment approach must be taken in order to stop the process before anorexia cachexia does permanent damage to the body and becomes potentially life threatening. While outcomes have been mixed, a combination of nutritional counseling, supplements, medical treatment of GI symptoms, psychotherapy, and medications have had some positive results. (3,5)
Seeking help from a team of highly qualified practitioners who specialize in eating disorders is the first step. At Within Health, we offer virtual treatment programs for anyone looking for help treating, and recovering from an eating disorder. Our clinical care team will work with you to create a customized plan attuned to your specific needs. To learn more about what we do, including our commitment to inclusive care, or to start treatment today, call our admissions team today.