Health complications of eating disorders in children

Eating disorders can be acute or chronic and can affect every organ system in the body depending on the severity. There should be adequate awareness to act quickly and take necessary measures in children suspected with eating disorders to avoid any serious health complications.

1. Effect on Heart:
Children with Anorexia or Bulimia nervosa often complain of secondary cardiac complications like changes in the heart rate, low blood pressure, arrhythmia or irregular heart beat etc.
Other typical symptoms include intolerance to exercise, fatigue, headaches, chest pain and, profound vital sign instability.
Many studies have concluded that chronic eating disorders in children cause irreversible structural and functional changes in the heart along with increased risk to developing cardiomyopathy.

2. Effect on the Gastro-intestinal tract:
Binge eating and frequent episodes of vomiting cause malnutrition in children with eating disorders. This may give rise to gastrointestinal complications like constipation, delayed stomach emptying, dyslipidemia, serious disorders like mesenteric artery syndrome.
Exposure of gastric contents to the lining of the food pipe causes a condition called as esophagitis and in severe cases, permanent rupture of the esophageal lining.
Children with anorexia nervosa usually suffer with abdominal bloating, nausea and fullness after meals. Bulimic children in extreme cases are at a risk of developing pancreatitis.

3. Effect on the Endocrine System:
Young adolescents may suffer with pubertal delay and decelerated linear growth. Girls typically have menstruation dysfunction and may develop polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Chronic eating disorders that cause malnutrition may result in reduced bone mineral density that increases risk to developing bone disorders at an early age and risk to frequent fractures.
Leptin is an important hormone responsible for energy homoeostasis. Reduced leptin function causes thyroid disorders and reduced hunger.

4. Effect on Kidney:
Severe dehydration causes loss of kidney concentrating ability resulting in high urine output.

5. Effect on Brain:
Changes in structural and cognitive development of the brain are seen in children with chronic eating disorders.
Psychiatric symptoms like anxiety disorder, depression, stress disorder, self-injurious behavior and drug abuse are common in children with eating disorders.

6. Other effects:
Iron, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and Vitamin B12 deficiency is very common and is reversible with supplementation.
Electrolyte disturbance due to vomiting and laxative abuse is common and is treated with oral rehydration therapy effectively.

Diagnosis of symptoms at the right time is the key to achieving good health for children with eating disorders. Child nutrition experts will emphasize more on treatment modalities in the next article.

For more reads…Neutriful.