Anorexia and heart health

Anorexia is a serious and potentially deadly eating disorder. Learn about the warning signs, how it impacts heart health, and what you can do to get help for yourself or someone in need.

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What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric diagnoses.

People with anorexia may have an extreme fear of weight gain and a distorted body image, which makes them diet, exercise, or use other weight loss methods even if they are already underweight. People with anorexia typically severely limit what they eat. Some also engage in other eating disorder behaviors like purging by vomiting, abusing laxatives, or extreme exercise.

Anorexia can affect anyone, but it is most common in girls and women. Some warning signs of anorexia can include:

  • Refusing to eat, or severely limiting the amount and types of food you eat
  • Always thinking and talking about food, weight, and dieting
  • Exercising excessively
  • Having anxiety about weight gain
  • Denying that you have a problem with food, weight, and dieting

Anorexia and Heart Health

People with anorexia starve themselves, so they don’t get the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients everyone needs to stay healthy. This leads to problems in many organs and systems in your body, including your heart.

Anorexia can lead to:

Low blood pressure

Your blood pressure measures the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries. While high blood pressure can be dangerous, low blood pressure can be too, because your organs and tissues might not get the oxygen and other nutrients they need.

Slow heart rate (bradycardia)

Your heart rate is a measure of how many times your heart beats per minute. A slow heart rate, also called bradycardia, can keep your body from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Heart failure

Heart failure happens when your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Without treatment, heart failure will get worse over time, eventually leading to death.

Getting Help for Anorexia

Anorexia can be deadly if left untreated, but there are treatments that can help, including:

  • Psychological counseling, which can help you learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and your body
  • Medicines to treat depression and anxiety, which can be linked to anorexia
  • Nutritional counseling, which can help you learn about healthy approaches to food, eating, and reaching a healthy weight

If you’re concerned about your eating habits or think a friend or family member may have anorexia, talk to your doctor about how to get help. Learn more at the UPMC Behavioral Health Services webpage.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.