If you have a child suffering from an eating disorder, you are naturally fearful for the health of their mind and body. Patients diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia often experience a common complication called cerebral atrophy, or shrinkage of the brain. This occurs when the brain is denied nutrients because a person has experienced severe weight loss and low body fat during anorexia. Brain atrophy can affect both sides of the brain or happen in small areas inside the brain.
Symptoms of Cerebral Atrophy
Other than appearing underweight, your child will not have any physically visible signs of cerebral atrophy. However, there are other symptoms and behaviors that happen as brain tissue loses neurons and neural pathways. This loss affects conscious thought and voluntary processes, resulting in:
Those who experience dementia have progressive memory loss and intellectual function, difficulty with planning, organizing and sequencing, erratic thoughts and behavior, and trouble learning new things.
Someone with aphasia has a hard time speaking and understanding language. They might struggle to speak, read, and comprehend. Often, aphasia causes someone to utter incomplete sentences, partial phrases, or choose odd or wrong words.
Seizures stemming from cerebral atrophy can make someone simply appear disoriented or have repetitive movements. Worse seizures cause convulsions and loss of consciousness.
Is There A Cure?
Of course, immediately stopping anorexic behaviors will halt the shrinkage rate of the brain. Sadly, there is no pill or injection to magically grow the brain back to a normal size and erase the effects of cerebral atrophy. Fortunately, recent studies show that the damage may be reversible, depending on how long the eating disorder lasted and how severe the malnutrition was. A patient who has anorexia for many years will experience more damage than someone who found treatment and began recovery much sooner.
So far, studies have shown that although some patients do not immediately recover 100% of the brain's gray matter, over time brain size continued to grow slowly, as long as patients continued to maintain weight gain.
There's Definitely Hope
If you are able to detect an eating disorder in your child sooner rather than later, early intervention means a better chance for the brain to return to normal without permanent damage. Treatment for eating disorders may be somewhat more complex because of physiological and metabolic changes in the brain. Also, EEGs can help determine the impact—if any—to the brain.
Go to websites for eating disorder programs for more information.