Anorexia nervosa is a horrific disease that wages war on not only the soul of the individual but also every single part of their body. It massacres the bones causing them to become weak and brittle, it ferociously assaults the heart, and it can even permanently erase a women’s treasured ability to have her own child. In this new blog series – The Consequences of the Deadliest Mental Illness – I will be discussing the myriad of health complications that come with the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. I hope that this series of informative posts will help educate not only sufferers of the disease, but also family members and friends of those with anorexia as well as normal individual who have no personal connection to the disease. As national eating disorder weeks comes around, I am realizing more and more about how little people know about anorexia nervosa and eating disorders as a whole. I hope and pray that this series changes that and people start to realize that no one consciously chooses to have anorexia nervosa because NO ONE IN THE WORLD wants the potential fatal complications that come with the disease.
Now, the health complications I listed in the first paragraph are pretty terrifying and those complications are usually the one’s doctors lecture about to their suffering anorexic patients the most. What the docs tend to fail to explain is the affects anorexia has on one of the most important bodily fluid – the blood. The blood is not just a dark red substance that drips down your knee after you take a good fall on the sidewalk. It’s actually the key to optimal health and survival. So what makes blood so special? Well in order to understand that we need to look at each of the blood’s four basic components – the plasma, the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and last but certainly not least – the platelets.
The plasma is kind of like a bodily fluid smoothie. It is a liquid that contains water, fat, sugars, proteins, and other nutrients. It’s main mission is to transport the other blood cells around the body.
The red blood cells look like little disks and are red colored because they contain a very special protein called hemoglobin. The hemoglobin helps the red blood transport oxygen throughout the body and return carbon dioxide to the lungs
The white blood cells, or leukocytes, are like your own personal body guard. Their job is to scout out and destroy foreign bodies that might bring you harm.
Finally we have our platelets which you can think of little plumbers ready to fix a leak wherever it may be in your body. These fellas are actually fragments of cells that have the job of helping your blood clot when you get injured. They do this by booking it to the affected area and sticking to the lining of the “leaky” blood vessel, thus forming a platform for the blood to begin to coagulate.
So now that you get the general idea of what the blood is comprised of and what each of the cells jobs are, it’s time to start learning what happens to the blood when an anorexic is unable to allow her body to get the nourishment it needs.
Anemia is one of the biggest health issues in malnourished anorexics, affecting 21% to 39% of all sufferers. It is a condition that is characterized by having too few red blood cells and do you remember what red blood cells do? They’re duty is to transport all the oxygen around the body and to kick out the carbon dioxide by sending it on back to the lungs. So that means if you have too few of them, your body’s organs are not receiving enough oxygen to thrive. This causes people with anemia to have shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, extreme fatigue, low energy, and dizziness. A lot of the times, the anemia can be the cause of a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which if left untreated, can lead to severe neurological damage.
Anemia isn’t the only issue with the blood cells in those with anorexia. A lot of the times the shape and structure of the red blood cells (RBC morphology) is extremely abnormal. Some anorexic suffers may have red blood cells that are unequal in size (anisocytosis), red blood cells that are abnormally shaped (poikilocytosis), and red blood cells that are even spikey (acanthocytosis).
Another huge issue among those with anorexia is the toll starvation takes on their immune system. People with anorexia usually suffer from leukopenia – a condition where there are too few white blood cells in the body. This condition puts anorexics at risk for infection and sadly, it isn’t to hard for one little bug to push an anorexic’s ailing body to the edge and cause devastating effects. Don’t believe me? Well, take the famous model Isabelle Caro for example. She put a nude picture of her emaciated body on a billboard for an anti-anorexia campaign. Despite many efforts to try to get better, Isabelle passed away in November of 2010 from a lung infection. She was just 28 years old. She could have had a lot going for her if it wasn’t for anorexia.
Though I am sure there are more hematological conditions that are the direct result of self-starvation caused by anorexia, those are the one’s I know about. I hope that this post gave you a taste of what anorexics have to go through and maybe if you are anorexic, encouraged you to get the help you need. Please stay tune for more posts from this series!