The mortality rates for eating disorders are pretty dismal. And anorexia tops the charts as the most deadly of all mental health disorders, especially among girls and young women ages 15 to 24. And at least 33% of the deaths associated with anorexia are caused by heart problems. (1)
These facts are not comforting, we know. Even less comforting is the very real risk of sudden death by heart attack in people with anorexia. Today we’re going to look at this risk, why it occurs and what happened when one teen ignored the symptoms.
How Do Anorexic Behaviors Lead to Heart Attack?
Our heart is an organ that requires food to create energy and function properly. When a person severely limits how much they eat, the body suffers. And the heart, as an organ in the body, is no different.
A lack of nutrition weakens the heart muscle, causing all sorts of problems. For example, the heart’s walls may begin to thin, the heart’s chambers may grow larger than normal, and the heart valves may struggle to open and close as they once did.1
At this point, the heart may be unable to keep up with all the blood needs throughout the body. So it beats faster, working to pump more blood at a breakneck pace. (2)
These functional deficits combine with the electrolyte imbalance created by anorexia, which can cause a heart attack. (3) It is understandable, then, that Eatingdisorders.com says heart disease is very likely to occur in people with long-term, severe anorexia.
One Teenager’s Story
Jeanette was just 17 years old when she suffered from an anorexia-induced heart attack. She’d been restricting food for years and ingested mostly black coffee and calorie-free gum. When she did eat—which wasn’t often or much—she made sure to work out for hours afterward. (4)
After passing out at school, she received an emergency room diagnosis: Anorexia Nervosa.
Severely underweight and with telling bloodwork, the doctors, her parents, and school officials did everything they could think of to help Jeanette get back on a healthy path. She resisted, insisting that she was fine and probably just needed to drink more water. Then the heart attack happened.
Of this experience, Jeanette says, “Every organ in my body was failing… I was placed on a feeding tube along with countless other cords and machines that kept my barely beating heart alive. My bones started to deteriorate. It was then that I admitted to myself that I had an eating disorder.” And thank God that she did.
At the time of telling her story, Jeanette was four years into full recovery. She regularly speaks at treatment centers as an encouragement to others and was working to become a therapist with a focus on eating disorder recovery.
If you or someone you love suffers from anorexia, don’t wait to get help. Give us a call today at 765.442.3551.