Guidance from a former parent of Walden Behavioral Care’s Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program

The statistics are staggering. As many as 20% of those suffering from eating disorders will die from the illness. For caregivers this statistic underscores how very hard this illness can make one’s life, and how important it is to keep trying to help a child get better. It is an equally stark reminder that these illnesses that comprise eating disorders may prove fatal.

Some of the most common medical complications from eating disorders are related to the heart. Cardiac complications together with suicide are the leading causes of death for those suffering from anorexia nervosa. Cardiac complications are also very high with bulimia and can be fatal.

Speaking as a parent of a younger patient who went from diagnosis of an eating disorder to acute in a matter of weeks, I understand all too well the complications related to eating disorders. After my daughter was diagnosed, and while we were still investigating treatment, it took a rapid turn for the worse. She had lost a lot of weight in a short period of time, and looked really thin.  Our pediatrician diagnosed her with anorexia and began monitoring her weekly while we tried to find clinical care.  In that time period waiting for call backs from clinicians, and trying to figure out what to do next, her blood work labs looked A-ok. Her resting HR was fine. The pediatrician was very concerned with the continued weight loss, and asked us to come in twice a week.   It was really excruciating to see she could not eat, but she won a poetry contest at school, and pleaded to continue to play indoor soccer.  On our return trips to the pediatrician, however, she kept losing weight at an alarming rate. Unbeknownst to me, she was pitching every meal and snack before and after school and restricting dinner down to less than 300 calories. Her behavior was more and more bizarre.

I was unable to contain the downward slope she was on and the physical toll changed from one day to the next.  It happened all of a sudden. Her lips turned blue during indoor soccer practice, and she collapsed on the field.  We rushed her to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital where she was diagnosed with bradycardia, and orthosasis and acute anorexia. Her labs were truly off at that point, she was acutely ill and her heart rate was so low that it resembled my 80 year old father in laws heart rate before his surgery to insert a pace maker. She was hospitalized on an acute basis for 42 days at Children’s Hospital.

Do not wait to get further assessment by a medical specialist. Act quickly and aggressively. Common symptoms of cardiac abnormalities are: fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, reduced tolerance to exercise among others. Anyone with cardiac symptoms should be assessed immediately.

Think it can’t happen to you or your child? Do you think that your child looks thin, but seem to be getting by okay? Do you think that he or she is able to run around the soccer field, or still do ballet despite an eating disorder? Do you wonder how bad could it be, if they could still win that academic award? Or…. Perhaps they have had this for a year or more, and seemed to get by. How bad could it be?

Read the story of one mother for whom the outcome was not as bright as ours. One mother whose mission it is to spread the word about early and aggressive treatment. One mother who will never get to hug her daughter again.

Information regarding physical complications above came from

“Give Food a Chance” Dr. Julie OToole