Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Eating Disorders Carry Hidden Risks; Patients Have Higher Incidence of Cardiac, Circulatory Disorders

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Eating Disorders Carry Hidden Risks; Patients Have Higher Incidence of Cardiac, Circulatory Disorders

Article excerpt

Byline: Ruple J. Galani

Every new year, millions of Americans make the pledge to diet, exercise and lose weight. In some individuals, however, these good intentions become pathological and develop into an eating disorder.

A U.S. adult has a 0.6 percent lifetime risk for developing anorexia nervosa, a 1 percent risk for bulimia and a 2.8 percent risk for a binge eating disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Women are more likely to experience an eating disorder, but the incidence in men is slowly growing. The damage an eating disorder can do to your body, especially to your heart, is not always seen on the outside.


The three main types of eating disorders that can affect your heart are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating.

- Anorexia nervosa is characterized by intentionally restricting food intake, having a fear of weight gain and potentially become obsessed with weight control behavior, such as binge eating, or excessive exercise.

- Bulimia is defined as consuming large amounts of food followed by behavior to prevent weight gain, such as vomiting.

- Binge eating is consuming large amounts of food without trying to control weight.

Any of these eating disorders can have a negative effect on your heart.


Individuals with eating disorders have seven to 12 times the death rate of a normal individual. One cause is sudden cardiac death.

For a healthy human heart to conduct "electricity," it needs healthy levels of sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Patients with eating disorders often have low levels of these nutrients. In addition, they often have low levels of protein. All these low levels can lead to an abnormal electrocardiogram (ECK, EKG or heart rhythm test). Death occurs when the electrical abnormalities cause the heart to stop.


Eating disorders cause the cardiac muscle to waste, which means it gets thinner and weaker.

Several studies show that the lack of protein in patients with eating disorders increases the risk for heart failure. In some cases, the function of the heart can drop, leading to weakness, swelling in the legs and belly, shortness of breath and even sudden death.

If a patient is treated for the eating disorder, however, the heart muscle can recover and some of the damage can be reversed.


People with eating disorders also don't consume enough liquids. This leads to low blood pressure and episodes of passing out. In particular, patients get dizzy or lightheaded when they go from a sitting to standing position. This is called orthostatic hypotension.

The normal responses in the body to prevent a drop in blood pressure are blunted or even absent in people with eating disorders. The dizziness or passing out then places the person at higher risk for falls and other bodily injuries.


Patients with low levels of nutrients that help keep the heart's rhythm normal (the heart beat or pulse) commonly have symptoms such as skipping heart beats, racing heart, or "flip flops." On an electrocardiogram, they are seen as extra beats from the top and bottom chambers of the heart (premature atrial contractions and premature ventricular contractions). …

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