Anorexia May Lead to Emphysema

Malnutrition might cause form of lung disease, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 3, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The malnutrition that results from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa may cause emphysema.

That startling finding comes from a Canadian study presented Dec. 3 at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting in Chicago.

Researchers used a new method of assessing computed tomography (CT) scans to analyze the lungs of 14 anorexia patients and found the malnutrition in these patients changed the physical structure of their lungs.

"There is a reduction in the amount of lung tissue in patients with anorexia nervosa," lead author Harvey O. Coxson, an assistant professor of radiology at the University of British Columbia and an investigator at Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute at Vancouver General Hospital, says in a prepared statement.

"It is unclear whether these structural changes are permanent, but if they are, early therapy is important in patients who have anorexia," Coxson says.

Voluntary starvation is a characteristic of anorexia nervosa.

Coxson and his colleagues found the lung structures of anorexia nervosa patients showed loss of tissue that helps deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Similar changes are seen in people with emphysema caused by cigarette smoking. These changes result in shortness of breath and other respiratory problems.

"These results may influence the timing of nutritional support for anorexia patients to avoid or reverse this damage to the lung. Further, if malnutrition causes emphysema in anorexic patients, it may contribute to emphysema in smokers. If so, nutritional treatment may slow the development of emphysema in smokers," Coxson says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about anorexia nervosa.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, Dec. 3, 2003
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