Fetal Complications Raise Risk of Eating Disorders

Study found the more complications, the higher the later risk of anorexia and bulimia

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FRIDAY, Jan. 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Certain complications during fetal development and immediately after birth appear to be associated with the development of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, a new study contends.

Eating disorders are believed to be caused by a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors, according to a report in the Jan. 2 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Researchers at the University of Padua in Italy found that several complications in the mother -- including anemia (low levels of hemoglobin in the blood), diabetes mellitus and placental infarction (death of part of the tissue of the placenta) -- increased the child's risk of developing anorexia. Problems with the baby, including heart problems, hypothermia (low body temperature), tremors and hyporeactivity (a less than normal response to stimuli) also seemed to be linked to the eating disorder.

Placental infarction, neonatal hyporeactivity, early difficulties with eating, shorter than average birth length and low birth weight were associated with bulimia.

In addition, the number of complications affected the age at which the children developed anorexia nervosa. Those with more than five complications developed the disorder at an average age of 16.3, compared with 17.5 years for those with one to five complications.

The findings resembled what has been found in schizophrenia and, with less evidence, in other severe psychiatric disorders, the researchers wrote in a prepared statement. Obstetric complications may contribute to the development of psychiatric illnesses by robbing a fetus of the oxygen and nutrients needed for proper neurodevelopment or by causing neonatal brain damage.

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, news release, Jan. 2, 2006

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