Pediatric Heart Expert Forum
worried
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worried

Hi,
I have a form of an eating disorder. Since last week, I've been like starving myself and i know it's not healthy, but I was wondering, how long do you starve yourself before you damage your heart? Last night, i started to feel like a dull ache near my left breast, is it related to my eating habits? I'm 16 by the way.

Thanks for answering this.
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773637_tn?1327450515
Dear Summer,

Eating disorders that include starvation, such as anorexia nervosa, damage the heart in three ways.  The first is in the abnormal levels of electrolytes in your system, which can cause the heart to have abnormal function and rhythms.  The second occurs with the actual starvation:  your body breaks down remaining tissue so that you can function normally.  The heart muscle gets broken down, as well, which can lead to decreased heart function and abnormal (and, potentially, lethal) rhythms.  The third is that the lack of nutrients that the heart needs also damages the heart muscle.  The problem is that it can occur at different times for different people, so it cannot necessarily be predicted.  As well, there are some people who have underlying heart problems (who may not know about it) that are at risk for having worse cardiac issues earlier.

Without evaluating you, I cannot say whether your chest pain is related to your eating disorder, or not. It is important that you have recognized that you do have an eating disorder.  Since these are often related to both internal and external issues in your life, I strongly recommend that you obtain help from an eating disorder specialist.  As well, since your heart may, in fact, be involved in this case, it would be good for you to be evaluated by a pediatric cardiologist to ensure that your heart is normal at this point.
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Jeffrey R Boris, M.D.Blank
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The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
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