By Kristi Eaton
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
When women suffering anorexia stop having their menstrual periods many think they no longer have to worry about birth control. But the recent discovery of a higher rate of unplanned pregnancies among women with the disorder turns that thinking on its head.
–As a child with anorexia, I was too young to worry about losing my period.
But many of the older girls and women in my treatment center believed the loss of a regular period was a perk to the potentially deadly illness. With the loss of the menstrual period, called amenorrhea, there was less hassle to deal with each month and less worry about getting pregnant. Many of the women, in fact, believed they could not have children even if they tried, thinking the anorexia had made them infertile.
A study late last year from a leading eating disorders researcher shows the repercussions of such misperceptions for women with anorexia.
Published in the November 2010 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the study indicated that women with anorexia are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and induced abortions compared to women who don’t have the disorder.
Many women falsely assume that if they are not menstruating or if they are menstruating irregularly that they are unable to conceive, said Cynthia M. Bulik, the study’s lead author and director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Eating Disorders Program.
“There are also a lot of myths out there that people with anorexia nervosa are infertile. This is not the case,” she said. “Of course anorexia nervosa does lead to infertility in some cases, but many women continue to ovulate even in the absence of menstruation.”
Characterized by extreme weight loss because of excessive dieting or exercise, a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, anorexia affects as many as 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States, according to the Seattle-based National Eating Disorders Association.