by Susan Hanna
An eating disorder is a serious medical condition that can lead to debilitating illness or death. Almonte family physician Dr. Heather Abramenko answers some frequently asked questions about eating disorders.
What are the most common types? The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, which means not taking in enough nutrition, and bulimia, which means the sufferer eats but then purges by making themselves vomit, explains Dr. Abramenko.
What causes eating disorders? The causes can be very complex,says Dr. Abramenko. There usually is an emotional basis for the illness.
How can an eating disorder affect the body? The body's electrolytes can go out balance, which can cause cardiac arrhythmia, and the heart can stop, says Dr. Abramenko. Other effects include bone loss, muscle weakness, cessation of menstruation, constipation and feeling cold and tired. Bulimics may suffer damage to their teeth and esophagus from bringing up stomach acid. Mental concentration and judgment are also affected.
Who suffers from it? Eating disorders tend to affect more women than men, but they do affect men, says Dr. Abramenko. We tend to see them in young people, but sometimes the elderly also stop eating.
Dr. Abramenko added that eating disorders are often associated with certain types of activities or careers that focus on being thin, such as modeling, acting, ballet, figure skating and some sports.
What are the warning signs? If someone is starting to look very thin and is overly concerned about food and their weight, it could be a sign of an eating disorder, says Dr. Abramenko. Usually the sufferer has a poor body image and thinks she or he looks fat. Vomiting after meals is an indication of bulimia.
What is the treatment? Treatment is offered at eating disorder clinics, says Dr. Abramenko. The patient will likely work with their family doctor, a dietitian and a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. It can be a difficult disease to treat, with relapses happening frequently.