With so much emphasis on the annual holiday weight gain, it’s easy to forget that overeating and obesity are not the only weight problems that can impact your heart health. Eating disorders can be just as damaging to your heart health as obesity.
Although eating disorders can affect persons of all ages and demographics, it is more common among young women. According to the National Mental Health Association, more than 90% of all persons with an eating disorder are young women between the ages of 12 and 25 years old. The damage to your heart and overall health caused by an eating disorder can be devastating so early diagnosis and treatment are key to recovery.
The three most common eating disorders and their characteristics are:
• Anorexia nervosa – excessive exercise, calorie counting, avoiding food and meal, eating only small quantities, weighing food, more common in women than men, fear of weight gain;
• Bulimia nervosa – characterized by binge/purge cycle, vomiting after meals, using laxatives to cleanse body of food after eating, using water pills, overeating at meals, more common in women than men, fear of weight gain; and
• Binge eating disorder - frequent compulsive overeating even when not hungry, often eats alone, no purging involved, eating quickly, equally common in both men and women.
Each of the three eating disorders are equally hard on the cardiovascular system and may cause severe damage to heart health. Untreated, the results of an eating disorder can be deadly and lead to a cardiac event and death. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in persons suffering from Anorexia. Eating disorders damage the heart in several ways:
• Change in heart rhythm. Eating disorders may cause a change in the natural rhythm of your heart causing you to develop bradycardia. Bradycardia is occurs when the heart rate drops below 60 beats per minute. A normal resting heart rate, depending on your age, is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Anorexics have a very slow heart rate and low blood pressure which may lead to the development of bradycardia. When the heart beat slows, your blood pressure drops as well.