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The Effects of Eating Disorders on Reproductive Health in Women

Eating disorders can sometimes be overlooked in the wave of visually assessing a person's health. Eating disorders are viewed as significant mental health conditions, and as such, they can take time to treat and recover from. However, the havoc that eating disorders can wreak upon a woman's body can be astounding. It's important to recognize that the effects of eating disorders on the reproductive system of women can be significant and long-lasting.

Not Just a Mental Health Condition

Eating disorders are very much a mental health concern, but they affect the overall health of the physical body too. These effects from prolonged malnutrition can affect many parts of the physical body, including the reproductive system. 

Reproductive System and Eating Disorders

Long-term malnutrition can indeed cause the menstrual cycle to essentially pause for women, and if a person young enough develops an eating disorder, it can affect their growth. One area that can be greatly altered is hormones. The reproductive system and endocrine systems are very strongly linked, and the endocrine system is what governs hormones within the body.

An eating disorder that goes on for too long can impact the production of hormones, meaning that the body won't produce enough hormones to function properly or to perform basic reproductive duties. When there's not enough food to create the fuel needed for the body to operate, some systems won't be prioritized. The reproductive system is one such area that suffers from a lack of fuel.

While it's not impossible to become pregnant while also suffering from an eating disorder, it can be very difficult and complicated. Disordered eating can be quite threatening for not only the fetus but also the pregnant person. Some things that may be affected include the following:

  • Restricted growth of the fetus
  • Reduced weight of the child at birth
  • Developmental issues for the fetus
  • Increased fatigue for the pregnant individual
  • Dizziness and dehydration
  • Abnormalities of electrolytes
  • Loss of pregnancy due to miscarriage
  • Greater chance of prolonged labor

Fertility After Recovery

A person who has recovered from an eating disorder may have their fertility return. Recovery can take a great deal of time, but it is possible with proper nutrition and care. During recovery, a person can be at risk for other medical concerns, so proper care and counseling can assist those in recovery and help to reduce the potential long-term effects of eating disorders on the reproductive and other systems.