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The Link Between Eating Disorders and Infertility

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia can result in several health issues, including the inability to get pregnant. This is true whether you are in the midst of the disorder, or have been in remission for years. In fact, women with a history of anorexia nervosa or bulimia were almost twice as likely to have sought out a doctor to discuss infertility concerns, compared to the general population.

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Eating disorders can cause poor nutrition, unhealthy weight, and very low levels of body fat. This can disrupt ovulation, reduce the quality of eggs, or even lead to ovarian failure, which is a condition that mimics menopause in women under 40.

All these factors can decrease your chances of becoming pregnant, and if you do become pregnant, it can increase the risk of miscarriage or other complications.

Types of Eating Disorders

Common eating disorders include:

Anorexia – A disease where a person severely restricts calories in order to lose weight or maintain abnormally low body weight.

Bulimia – A disorder that involves self-induced vomiting to rid their bodies of calories – or the feeling of fullness – often due to eating excessive amounts of food, otherwise known as binge eating. Bulimia can also include use of enemas, laxatives, excessive exercise, or periods of restricted dieting or fasting.

Binge Eating – An eating disorder that can lead to obesity and decreased fertility. Overeating and binge eating without attempting to purge afterward can also cause difficulty getting pregnant. 

What Affects Fertility?

Lack of Nutrition – Basic nutritional needs are often not met when a woman has an eating disorder. By forcing themselves to throw up or using laxatives or enemas to empty their bowels quickly, their bodies won’t have the time required to absorb the nutrients from the food they eat. The same is true if a woman is severely restricting food intake.

If your body doesn’t get essential nutrients, then egg cells may be of poorer quality. Your body may also have more difficulty synthesizing essential hormones for reproduction. This can lead to decreased fertility.

Abnormal Menstruating – If you’re not menstruating normally, this usually means you’re also not ovulating normally. If you’re not ovulating normally, it will be difficult to get pregnant.

According to some studies, between 66 and 84 percent of women with anorexia nervosa don’t get their periods, and between 6 and 11 percent have irregular cycles. For women with bulimia nervosa, anywhere between 7 and 40 percent experience amenorrhea and between 36 and 64 percent have irregular periods.

Women who had low BMI, low-calorie intake, and engaged in excessive exercise were more likely to have menstrual irregularities.

How Eating Disorders Affect Fertility Long-Term

Some studies show that about one out of five women who seek treatment for infertility have suffered from an eating disorder. Those who have a history of eating disorders are more likely to have difficulty conceiving, and/or may take a little longer to get pregnant.

But the good news is that if you can conquer your eating disorder and put it behind you, you’ll be one step closer to being able to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy.

You can increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy by eating a nutritious, well-balanced pregnancy diet, taking your prenatal vitamins, and by drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Our OB/GYNs Can Help

It’s important to first schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN to discuss your history with eating disorders, or if you are still suffering from eating issues. He or she can do basic fertility testing and get a baseline on whether things look good, or if there may be potential problems. If there are potential problems, they can provide fertility treatments and procedures to help you conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.

Call us today at 770.720.7733 to schedule an appointment at either our Canton or Woodstock location or simply request an appointment online. We’re here to help you!

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