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Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.

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They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological, and social function. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica, and rumination disorder.

Taken together, eating disorders affect up to 5% of the population, most often developing in adolescence and young adulthood.  Eating disorders affect several million people at any given time, most often women between the ages of 12 and 35. Several, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, are more common in women, but they can all occur at any age and affect any gender. Eating disorders are often associated with preoccupations with food, weight or shape, anxiety about eating, or the consequences of eating certain foods.

Behaviors associated with eating disorders include restrictive eating or avoidance of certain foods, binge eating, purging by vomiting or laxative misuse, or compulsive exercise. These behaviors can become driven in ways that appear similar to an addiction.

Serious medical complications can be life-threatening and include heart rhythm abnormalities, especially in those patients who vomit or use laxatives, kidney problems, or seizures.

In the case of severe anorexia nervosa, admission to an inpatient or residential behavioral specialty program may be indicated when outpatient treatment is ineffective. Most specialty programs are effective in restoring weight and normalizing eating behavior, although the risk of relapse in the first year following program discharge remains significant. Bulimia can lead to rare but potentially fatal complications, including esophageal tears, gastric rupture, and dangerous cardiac arrhythmias. Medical monitoring in severe bulimia nervosa is important to identify and treat possible complications.

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