What are the Long Term Effects of an Eating Disorder?

What are the Long Term Effects of an Eating Disorder?

Eating Disorders are severe illnesses that affect tens of millions of adults in America; they can affect several of the body’s organ systems as well as have a profound effect on someone’s physical appearance. 

General Health Consequences

Some general health consequences of eating disorders may include:

  • Dry skin and/or hair loss from low consumption of fat and calories
  • The growth of lanugo, or fine, downy hair, all over the body; this can occur while the body is in starvation mode and attempting to conserve heat
  • Kidney failure from severe, long-term dehydration
  • Anemia, from too little iron in the diet or low red blood cell count
  • Other blood cell counts can drop due to inadequate nutrition
  • White blood cell counts can fall due to malnutrition; white blood cells help the body fight infection

Side Effects on the Gastrointestinal System 

Eating disorders may also affect the gastrointestinal system in various ways:

  • Constipation, which may develop from inadequate nutritional intake (short or long term) or laxative abuse
  • The stomach can rupture, which is a life-threatening emergency; this can occur if someone binge eats
  • Esophageal rupture can occur from induced vomiting; this is also a life-threatening emergency
  • Intestinal obstruction or perforation
  • The development of various intestinal infections
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) can occur in response to purging or malnutrition
  • Salivary glands in front of the ears and under the jaw can swell up after someone has induced vomiting over a long period of time
  • Gastroparesis, or slowed digestion, can develop from induced vomiting and/or food restriction

Neurological Side Effects

Some neurological side effects of eating disorders could include:

  • Sleep apnea (stopping breathing while asleep); higher weight individuals are at a heightened risk of developing this
  • Dizziness or fainting, particularly when one stands up
  • Seizures and muscle cramps due to electrolyte imbalances or severe dehydration
  • Difficulties falling or remaining asleep; this can occur due to extreme fullness or hunger at bedtime
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and other extremities due to damaged neurons from inadequate fat intake
  • Difficulties concentrating or obsession over food; this can occur when the brain isn’t getting as much energy as it needs

Effects on the Endocrine System

There are various possible effects eating disorders can have on the endocrine–or hormonal–system. These could include:

  • Lowered levels of thyroid hormones as well as the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone due to inadequate calories and fat in the diet
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia from lowered levels of sex hormones; this can also heighten the risk of fractures or broken bones
  • Menstruation could cease or become irregular due to lowered levels of estrogen
  • High cholesterol levels from starvation
  • A dip in core body temperature due to inadequate energy to retain a healthy core body temperature. In more severe cases, this could lead to hypothermia
  • Insulin resistance can develop from binge eating over time; this can lead to Type 2 Diabetes
  • A lowered resting metabolic rate from the body trying to conserve energy

Effects on the Cardiovascular System

Lastly, eating disorders can also affect the cardiovascular system. Some such effects can include:

  • Electrolyte imbalance from purging (via laxative or vomiting); this can lead to irregular heartbeats and potentially even heart failure, which is life-threatening
  • A reduced resting metabolic rate from the body trying to conserve energy
  • Lowered blood pressure and pulse rates can develop from consuming less calories than one needs, which can lead to the breaking down of muscles–including the heart. This can also lead to a higher risk of heart failure


It is important to remember that while eating disorders can have severe side effects, they are also treatable.

We are also here to help you at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You may contact us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.

Scroll to Top