Women with anorexia nervosa stop menstruating. Anorexics may also have abdominal pain, constipation, and increased urination. The heart rate may be slow or irregular. Many develop downy, dark body hair (lanugo) over normally hairless areas. They may have bloating after eating and swelling of the feet and lower legs. Low levels of potassium and sodium and other imbalances in the body's electrolytes can lead to cardiac arrest, kidney failure, weakness, confusion, poor memory, disordered thinking, and mood swings. The death rate for anorexics is high: About 5 percent will die within eight years of being diagnosed and 20 percent within twenty years.
Self-induced vomiting can lead to erosion of tooth enamel, gum abscesses, and swelling of the parotid glands in front of the ear and over the angle of the jaw. About one-third of women with bulimia have abnormal changes in their menstrual cycles. Some bulimics consume so much food in such a short period of time that their stomachs rupture. More than 75 percent of these individuals die. Use of ipecac and laxatives can lead to heart damage. Symptoms include chest pain, skipped heartbeats, and fainting, and these heart problems can lead to death. In addition, bulimics are at increased risk for ulcers of the stomach and small intestine and for inflammation of the pancreas.
One commonly overlooked problem is the "female athletic triad," a combination of disordered eating, loss of menstruation, and osteoporosis. This can lead to fractures and permanent loss of bone minerals.
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