Can Eating Disorders Lead to Death?

Can Eating Disorders Lead to Death?According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.” Over 24 million individuals struggle with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, which puts a large portion of the population at risk for serious health consequences. Seek professional help immediately if you or a loved one has an eating disorder.

How Anorexia Nervosa Affects Health

Anorexia nervosa has serious physical side effects, including increased risk of heart palpitations and heart attack. It causes low levels of iron, potassium and calcium in the body. A lack of these vitamins can damage organ function. While the direct physical effects of anorexia are devastating, the mental health concerns related to this disease are often of even greater concern.

The January 2012 issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders reports a study of almost 1,200 women who received treatment for anorexia nervosa. Five of those women had fatal cases of the disease, all of whom struggled with personality disorders and three struggled with substance abuse. A 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 20% of deaths related to anorexia nervosa were by suicide, while the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that up to 50% of fatalities related to anorexia were by suicide—either percentage is alarming. ANAD reports that over half of all individuals with eating disorders also struggle with depression symptoms, making the high suicide rates understandable, though still tragic and avoidable. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that 50-70% of individuals with anorexia nervosa recover, highlighting the importance and effectiveness of treatment. Anorexia is a chronic disease, so continued support that addresses mental health and potential co-occurring substance abuse is essential for long-term recovery.

How Bulimia Affects Health

ANAD reports that bulimia nervosa is often accompanied by depression, anxiety or substance abuse. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that major depressive disorder is found in 64% of patients with bulimia, anxiety disorders are found in 36% and up to 70% struggle with co-occurring substance abuse issues. Binging and purging damages major organs—such as the stomach, heart and lungs—and these health complications are worsened by substance abuse. While the mortality rate for bulimia is less than that of anorexia, rates may be higher than 3%. Bulimia is a serious disease that requires integrated treatment for all co-occurring mental health concerns.

Find Treatment for an Eating Disorder

You can prevent fatalities from eating disorders if you seek professional treatment. Call our toll-free helpline to learn how you can reach out to a loved one or find recovery resources for yourself. We are here 24 hours a day, and all calls are free and confidential.