Potential Medical Complications of Eating Disorders

In addition to being psychologically painful disorders, it is important to note that anorexia and bulimia are two of the most potentially fatal psychiatric disorders.  If you think you might have an eating disorder, please get a psychological and medical evaluation.  Both are available to Barnard students (please see virtual brochure on treatment resources at Barnard).

Potential Medical Complications of Anorexia Nervosa:




Increased cholesterol levels

Lanugo (excessive body hair)


Stunted growth



Atrophy of the optic nerve, which can cause blindness

Retinal degeneration

Brain abnormalities

Congestive heart failure

Electrolyte imbalance, which can produce life-threatening consequences

It has been estimated that up to 20% of anorectics die of a complication related to the disorder.

Potential Medical Complications of Bulimia Nervosa:

Heart damage

Menstrual abnormalities



Kidney failure

Erosion of tooth enamel

Gastric rupture, which is rare; when it does occur, it has a mortality rate that exceeds 80%

Electrolyte imbalances, which can produce life-threatening consequences

Hair loss

Epileptic seizures

Mucosal ulcers

Although the mortality rates of bulimia are not yet known, some clinicians  believe that they may be as high as those for anorexia.

Medical Risks of Binge-Eating Disorder:

Modest deviations in weight have only a small effect on life expectancy. Research suggests that weight fluctuations (which can result from binge-eating disorder, particularly when accompanied by periods of restriction) are more harmful to a person’s health than a stable, above-average weight.