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The Effects on the Heart

effects of anorexia on the heartThe beating of the human heart – it is the most fundamental aspect of who we are and how we, as a species, stay alive. When we’re hurting, we might say we have a broken heart. When we’re happy, we say our hearts soar. In addition to the romantic notions about heartache and how the spirit of our emotions lie within us, the heart is pretty necessary for the day-to-day operations of the corporate tower that is our body. The brain might be the CEO, but the chief operating officer has its office in your chest cavity.

Effects of Anorexia on the Heart Can Be Deadly

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, heart disease is just one of the many complications that can result from anorexia nervosa. In fact, heart disease is responsible for the death of many individuals who suffer from severe cases. One possible complication is known as bradycardia. The human heart should beat at least 60 times per minute on average. If your heart does not beat at least 60 times per minute, the blood may not be able to do its job. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three possible complications that can arise from bradycardia. In the best of circumstances, there’s only a slight reduction in heartbeat and no symptoms may be present. However, in many cases, an individual suffering from bradycardia may find themselves fainting quite often. If the brain does not receive enough oxygen, fainting is often the result as explained in an article published by Medical News Today. In many cases, fainting comes on very quickly, and it is up to those around the fallen to do their best to help. Some practical advice about what to do if someone you love has fainted due to a possible heart condition brought on by their anorexia nervosa include:

  • Loosen all clothing, including belts neckties, tight jewelry (such as chokers or collars), or any items that might restrict blood flow.
  • Check for breathing; make sure they have simply fainted, and if you see any signs that worry you, do not hesitate to call for help.
  • Look for injuries. They may have hit their head or have other injuries, including broken bones. It is not uncommon for individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa to have experienced significant bone loss making it far easier for the bones to break from simple fall.
  • If no other injuries have occurred, raise their legs approximately one foot off the floor. This can help reestablish blood flow to the brain, increasing the oxygen level so they may regain consciousness.
  • When they come to, encourage them to stay still and not rise too quickly.

While it may sound like a failure of the heart would mean that the heart stops beating, heart failure—another possible complication of bradycardia—actually refers to the inability of the heart to do its job effectively. The heart is simply unable to pump enough blood to adequately nourish the entire body, according to the National Institutes of Health. There is no cure for heart failure. While it’s not an uncommon condition, generally speaking a healthy person can control the condition with medication or simple changes in their lifestyle routine. Anorexia nervosa is a behavioral condition with characteristics that can drastically decrease one’s chances of controlling heart failure. For instance, eating a healthy diet is one of the very first treatment methods for this condition. It is crucially important that an individual suffering from anorexia nervosa and who is also experiencing heart failure receives as fully comprehensive treatment as possible. Finally, it is possible that bradycardia can lead to cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest, which is different than a heart attack, can be fatal. According to Medline Plus, a heart attack occurs when the heart continues to beat but there are blockages preventing blood from entering the heart. In cardiac arrest, the electrical impulses that cause the heart to beat are turned off. Metaphorically speaking, a light bulb may begin to flicker. It might flicker every time you flip the light switch for several days or weeks. One day, you flip the switch and the filament inside the light bulb bursts. Prolonged bradycardia, or other conditions known as arrhythmias, can work much the same way on the human heart. One day, the heart simply stops beating. If you or someone you love suffers from anorexia, it’s important to get prompt treatment to prevent long-term damage to the heart. Call us for information.