Types of anorexia organ damage
Anorexia nervosa involves the extreme limitation of food, and this can result in many different and simultaneous vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as overall malnutrition.1
These deficiencies can impact organ function and contribute to some of the serious medical complications that may result from anorexia nervosa.
Signs of organ failure
Organ failure can happen suddenly or gradually, and look or feel different, depending on which organs are struggling.
Like other eating disorders, anorexia nervosa can cause issues with any number of organs. But there are some common signs to look out for which may indicate a developing problem, including:12
- Weakness or fatigue
- Drowsiness or sluggishness
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty concentrating or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fever or chills
- Swelling in the abdomen or extremities
- Persistent chest or abdominal pain
- A yellow tint to skin or eyes (jaundice)
- A bluish tint to the lips or under the fingernails (cyanosis)
It's important to note that organ failure doesn't necessarily mean an organ has stopped working. Rather, the phrase is used to indicate that the organ is not working up to full capacity—or "failing" to do its entire job.
Chronic organ failure progresses over time, in stages, while acute organ failure happens suddenly, usually caused by a specific event.12 And since the organs are all so interwoven, it's possible that issues with one could lead to issues with another.
Organ failure is a serious issue, and if you or a loved one are experiencing any signs, you should seek medical treatment immediately.
How to prevent organ damage from anorexia nervosa
The best way to prevent the organ damage caused by anorexia nervosa is to address the AN itself. This is generally done through a combination of therapeutic approaches, which target both the psychological and physical symptoms of AN.
The refeeding process is the most dangerous part of recovery for individuals with anorexia nervosa. Electrolyte imbalances and other issues caused by starvation can potentially lead to refeeding syndrome, a serious condition that can potentially be fatal. It's important to seek out proper medical care to ensure weight restoration is done at a safe and healthy pace.
Luckily, a majority of the organ damage caused by AN can be reversed with healthy weight gain. That's why, even with such an insidious eating disorder, hope is always possible.