Comorbidity is generally defined as the co-occurrence of two or more physical or mental health problems.
People experiencing eating disorders are at an increased risk of experiencing co-occurring psychiatric or medical conditions.
Research demonstrates that 55-97% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder also receive a diagnosis for at least one more psychiatric disorder. The most common psychiatric disorders which co-occur with eating disorders include mood disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder), anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma, substance use disorders, personality disorders (e.g. Borderline Personality Disorder, OCPD), sexual dysfunction, non-suicidal self-injury, and suicide ideation.
Death by suicide is significantly more prevalent in eating disorders populations compared to the general population. Recent research has found that individuals with anorexia are 31 times more likely to suicide than individuals from the general population, and the suicide rate for individuals with bulimia is 7.5 times higher than that of the general population. To improve the treatment of eating disorders, it is important to understand the timelines and sequencing of the onset of psychiatric comorbidities, and to consider the potential impact these co-occurring conditions have on the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of the eating disorder.
Comorbid conditions experienced by people experiencing an eating disorder may be connected to their eating disorder symptoms and behaviours, for example osteoporosis. For other comorbidities, the direction and mechanisms underlying any connection are unclear and a focus of future research.
The following complications have been shown to have an increased prevalence in people experiencing an eating disorder compared with the general population:
· Type 1 and 2 diabetes
· Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
· Osteopenia and osteoporosis
· Gastrointestinal problems
· Joint pains
· Headache and migraine
· Menstrual problems
Recent research shows that individuals with anorexia nervosa have a mortality rate five times higher than the general population, and those with bulimia nervosa are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those in the general population.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. Contact your GP for a referral to a practitioner with specific knowledge in eating disorders.
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