Real Risks: Are Eating Disorders Life-Threatening?


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You’ve probably heard that eating disorders are incredibly dangerous. But did you know they’re also life-threatening?

Maybe you’ve heard that before too. And perhaps it seemed like the exaggerations of a well-meaning parent, spouse, sibling, friend, doctor or therapist. After all, they care about you.

They care, yes, and they’re also telling the truth. Eating disorders can be both incredibly dangerous and deadly. And we’re not just talking about every once in a while.

Eating Disorder Mortality: What the Numbers Say

A person struggling with an eating disorder dies every 52 minutes in the United States.  That means that with the passing of each hour, an eating disorder has taken at least one additional life. And at the conclusion of each day: more than 24 lives.

If you’re counting, that’s 10,200 deaths in the U.S. every year due to eating disorders. (1)

Definitely not a rare or unfathomable occurrence. And not an unpreventable one either—but we’ll get to that! First, let’s look at the statistics on specific eating disorders.

Mortality rates for people suffering with bulimia: even after treatment, they are twice as likely to die compared to a peer in the general population. (2)

Mortality rates for people suffering with binge eating disorder (BED): 1.5 times more likely to die than a person of similar background with no eating disorder. (1)

Mortality rates for people suffering with anorexia: six times more likely to die than the average person. (3)

While each of these eating disorders is dangerous in its own right, we should take a moment to notice just how deadly anorexia can be. Anorexia is not only the most dangerous eating disorder but also the mental health disorder with the most fatalities.

And for people diagnosed with anorexia in their twenties, the risks are especially high, with an 18-fold increase of death. (3)

Of course, regardless of the type, what your loved ones say is true: eating disorders are absolutely life-threatening.

What Makes Eating Disorders Deadly?

Now that we know eating disorders are life-threatening let’s talk about why.

You can divide the reasons into two categories: physical and psychological. We’ll talk about the physical first.

Eating disorders can cause all sorts of problems in the body, including heart issues, irregular blood pressure, severe dehydration, and malnutrition. And each of these problems can lead to a set of new, more serious problems that may induce death.

A person may have a heart attack or a stroke. Or they may be so dehydrated or malnourished that the body can no longer function, and sudden death can occur. (1)

Beyond the physical issues, there is a strong link between eating disorders and suicidal behavior, with an increased risk of death by suicide for anorexia, bulimia, and BED. (1)

As you can see, the possibilities for an eating disorder ending in death are plausible. And maybe frightening as well. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, we would love to help. Give us a call today at 765.819.2524 or connect with us through our contact form before it’s too late.





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