Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center Blog

Infertility Caused by Eating Disorders

An eating disorder can leave lasting effects on a woman, even long after they have recovered from the disease. Many women with a history of eating disorders suffer from infertility, as one recent study showed.

Eating Disorders' Physical Impact on Ability to Conceive

Researchers from King's College London and the University College London published their report in the International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, BJOG. They found that women with a history of anorexia or bulimia have more fertility problems and more unplanned pregnancies than other women. This is due to the fact that when a women's body fat decreases to unhealthy levels, she stops ovulating, and can't conceive. Or, she may have such an irregular cycle that if pregnancy does occur, it is a surprise. Because of the impact eating disorders have on a woman's chance to conceive, women are encouraged to discuss even past eating disorders with their doctor. Study researcher Abigail Easter stresses, “We know that many women with a history of an eating disorder often feel unable to inform health care professionals of their illness. When planning a pregnancy or becoming pregnant we would encourage women with eating disorders, even if it was in the past, to discuss this with their doctors.”

Psychological Effects

Besides the physical dangers associated with eating disorders, a person can experience mental stress and anxiety as well. The London study found that women with an eating disorder are more likely to have negative feelings about having a child. This may be due to fear of gaining weight for the pregnancy and doubt about their ability to care for the child. Doctors need to be aware of the added mental health risks associated with patients with a history of eating disorders, including post partum depression and increased purging and binging during and after delivery. Imperial College London professor emeritus Philip Steer, MD, thinks doctors should be more aware of complications associated with eating disorders. “Women with eating disorders are often very intelligent and successful, so providers could easily fail to recognize that they may need extra nurturing during pregnancy and even after giving birth,” he says. “This research shows that an eating disorder history should be seen as a warning sign that a woman may have additional challenges associated with pregnancy.”