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Anorexia and Osteoporosis

Evidence shows that there is a definite link between anorexia and osteoporosis. The risk for osteoporosis (and its effects) can be significant, especially since anorexia tends to develop at a time when bone development is crucial. Long-term effects of bone loss persist, even when a person no longer suffers from anorexia. Weight-bearing exercise, calcium supplements, and estrogen therapy may be used as treatments for anorexia and osteoporosis.

An Overview of Anorexia and Osteoporosis

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an irrational fear of weight gain. People with anorexia nervosa believe that they are overweight even when they are extremely thin.
An estimated 0.5 percent to 3.7 percent of females have anorexia nervosa. While the majority of people with anorexia are female, an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia are male.
Individuals with anorexia become obsessed with food and severely restrict their dietary intake. The disease is associated with several health problems and, in rare cases, even death. The disorder may begin as early as the onset of puberty. If a girl has anorexia when she reaches puberty, her first menstrual period is typically delayed. For girls who have already reached puberty, menstrual periods are often infrequent or absent.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and are more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in significant pain and disability. It is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
  • Being thin or having a small frame
  • Having a family history of the disease
  • For women, being postmenopausal, having an early menopause, or not having menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • Using certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
  • Not getting enough calcium
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can often be prevented. However, if undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs. It has been called "a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences," because building healthy bones in one's youth will help prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
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