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Does anorexia cause dehydration?

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a serious and life-threatening mental health condition that commonly manifests as severe food restriction and can also present as compensatory behaviors, such as excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting (purging), and diuretic or laxative use. 

All together, these eating disorder behaviors can frequently lead to dehydration.1

As dehydration is associated with a variety of health complications, those with AN who are struggling with dehydration should be carefully monitored by a medical team. But in most cases, it's possible to treat dehydration alongside treating anorexia nervosa.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
June 22, 2023
June 22, 2023
Anorexia and dehydration
In this article

What is dehydration?

When learning about AN and dehydration it’s important to recognize the effects both conditions can have on the body.

Dehydration technically occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. Without enough water to carry out its tasks, the body can experience certain internal disruptions, making it difficult to function properly.7

In some of its more severe cases, dehydration can cause a disruption in the body's balance of electrolytes. These minerals are charged with helping regulate internal fluids, among other important tasks, and when their levels are off, it can cause damage to multiple organ systems and lead to:3,4

  • Chronic kidney disease and failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle weakness
  • Gastrointestinal disturbance

Whether or not someone is struggling with AN or another eating disorder, managing water intake is crucial to avoid these consequences.

Anorexia and dehydration: What's the connection?

Anorexia nervosa can complicate or be complicated by certain aspects of dehydration.

In patients with AN, health conditions caused by dehydration may be further exacerbated by lack of nutrients from severe food restriction. Without proper nutrition, the organ systems are under greater stress, which makes normal functioning more difficult.

Severe food restriction causes the body to break down tissues to harvest the energy needed for normal functioning, which can amplify the organ damage caused by dehydration.3,4

People with AN may also limit their fluid intake, which can more directly lead to dehydration, though this aspect of the condition has not been studied nearly as much as AN's impact on food intake.8

And in patients where AN presents with purging behaviors, other issues can arise. Laxative or diuretic use, and self-induced vomiting can create further electrolyte imbalances and an increase of acid in the blood. These imbalances in normal body chemistry put additional stress on the kidneys, heart, liver, and gastrointestinal system.2

Man drinking from a water bottle

Signs of dehydration in the body 

As dehydration can affect the functioning of all body systems, it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the condition in clients suffering from anorexia nervosa. Some of the early signs of dehydration include:5,6

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dark colored, strong-smelling urine
  • Passing urine less often
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth 
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chills
  • Constipation or difficulty with bowel movement

Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have symptoms including:5

  • High fever (103 degrees or higher)
  • Fainting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heartbeat

How to stay hydrated while treating anorexia nervosa

There are several things that can be done to help you stay hydrated while receiving treatment for anorexia nervosa, including:5

  • Carrying a water bottle as a reminder to continuously sip water throughout the day.
  • Adding slices of citrus fruits, cucumbers, or mint to make drinking water more enjoyable.
  • Consuming sports drinks or coconut water, which may help in maintaining electrolyte levels.
Get help for anorexia

With careful monitoring and consideration of the health risks of eating disorders, recovery is possible. Within Health offers compassionate and comprehensive treatment plans delivered by a multidisciplinary team experienced in treating eating disorders and addressing medical complications, such as the effects of dehydration.

Call (866) 293-0041

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Boyle, C. N., Lorenzen, S. M., Compton, D., & Watts, A. G. (2012). Dehydration-anorexia derives from a reduction in meal size, but not meal number. Physiology & Behavior, 105(2), 305–314.
  2. Winston A. P. (2012). The clinical biochemistry of anorexia nervosa. Annals of Clinical Biochemistry, 49(Pt 2), 132–143.
  3. Li Cavoli, G., Mulè, G., & Rotolo, U. (2011). Renal involvement in psychological eating disorders. Nephron. Clinical practice, 119(4), c338–c341.
  4. Sato, Y., & Fukudo, S. (2015). Gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders in patients with eating disorders. Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology, 8(5), 255–263.
  5. Dehydration. (2021, February 16). Cleveland Clinic. Accessed March 2023.
  6. Dehydration symptoms and treatments. National Health Service. Retrieved April 2023.
  7. Dehydration. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 2023. 
  8. Lowinger, K., Griffiths, R. A., Beumont, P. J., Scicluna, H., & Touyz, S. W. (1999). Fluid restriction in anorexia nervosa: a neglected symptom or new phenomenon?The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(4), 392–396.


Can anorexia cause dehydration?

Yes, anorexia may cause dehydration, through the restriction of food and fluid intake and loss of fluids through purging behaviors.

What is the fastest way to cure dehydration?

Under medical supervision, the fastest way to cure dehydration is by using intravenous fluids.

In cases of mild dehydration, small sips of water may be effective, though it may take slower to achieve proper hydration this way.5

Can dehydration cause nausea? 

Yes, nausea can be a symptom of serious dehydration. If you are experiencing nausea, along with a fever, rapid heartbeat, seizures, confusion, fainting, or loss of consciousness, you should seek medical attention immediately.5

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Further reading

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