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The link between eating disorders and infertility

It is sometimes difficult for people with an eating disorder to acknowledge their problems and seek help, but eating disorders can ruin the physical and mental health of those who do not seek treatment. However recovery from an eating disorder is not only achievable it is a reality to the hundreds of clients that have gone through Life Works eating disorder treatment clinic.

It has long been known there is a link between eating disorders and infertility in females. We know that those women who suffer from two of the most common eating disorders, anorexia and bulimia, put themselves at risk of poor health in a variety of different ways. One significant health impact their condition has is in relation to ovulation and the endocrine system. The lack of nutrients in the diet of an individual suffering from an eating disorder can lead to low egg production and poor quality eggs. Lack of menstruation, (amenorrhea), will also occur and in some cases can be permanent dependent on how quickly treatment is sought.

The number of women suffering from the co-existing conditions of an eating disorder and infertility are thought to be high but the numbers reported are not clear. Some studies suggest one in 5 of all women presenting with infertility have an eating disorder but given that many choose not to disclose their eating disorder, these numbers are likely to be unreliable and may be significantly higher.

One study conducted by The Department of Psychiatry at St Michael’s Hospital in Canada found 17% of patients suffered from these co-existing conditions. It is important to note that as many of the women who present themselves for evaluation at clinics show no signs of being significantly over or underweight they are consequently not probed about the possibility of eating disorders. As a result, again this figure may be much higher.

Diet plays a part in fertility

Diet clearly plays a large part in both a woman’s ability to fall pregnant and successfully carry a pregnancy to term. Consistently poor nutrition has a very negative effect on fertility and may result in insufficient weight gain during pregnancy which presents risks to both mother and foetus.

It is thought that women who present themselves to fertility clinics should be assessed thoroughly for any history of eating disorders or repeated weight loss regimes. This assessment should be a health care standard and if a disorder is found to be present any infertility treatment then delayed until such time the eating disorder is addressed by treatment.

If a women who has already fallen pregnant is found to be suffering from an eating disorder prompt treatment should be undertaken to ensure the risk of complications to both mother and baby are kept to a minimum. The babies of women suffering from eating disorders should also be monitored carefully in order to make sure all nutritional goals are met.

Eating disorders often tend to co-exist with other destructive behavioural syndromes such as substance abuse, be it drugs or alcohol. In addition, someone suffering from an eating disorder is more likely to also be suffering from depression due to causes including low self esteem.

If you or someone you know is affected by any of the conditions here contact a professional addictions counsellor. You are not alone; you do not have to suffer alone. Help is available! Make the first step along the road to recovery by picking up the phone today.

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To discuss how the Life Works team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an eating disorder or for further information on treatment programmes, please call: 01483 745 066 or click here to make an enquiry.

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