Anorexia May Cause Emphysema, Study Suggests
Malnutrition resulting from anorexia nervosa has been known to cause many medical
complications. Now, research presented at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the Radiological
Society of North America (RSNA), has found that anorexia may cause emphysema
Researchers used a new method of assessing computed tomography (CT) scans to
analyze the lungs of anorexic patients and found that malnutrition changes the
physical structure of the lung. "There is a reduction in the amount of
lung tissue in patients with anorexia nervosa," said Harvey O. Coxson,
Ph.D., lead author of the study from Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) in Canada.
"It is unclear whether these structural changes are permanent," he
said, "but if they are, early therapy is important in patients who have
Anorexia nervosa, which primarily affects young women, is an eating disorder
characterized by voluntary starvation. The National Institute of Mental Health
reports that between 0.5 and 3.7 percent of female Americans will suffer from
anorexia during their lifetime. Eighty-six percent of patients report disease
onset before age 20. In severe cases, the lack of nourishment to the body can
result in serious heart, kidney and liver damage.
For this study, Dr. Coxson and colleagues compared CT findings from 14 patients
diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and 16 control patients. None of the patients
had a family history of lung disease. In addition to providing detailed images,
CT measured the absorbance of x-rays within the lung. The x-ray absorbance values
were then converted to measurements of lung structure and were compared to clinical
factors, such as body mass index and results of breathing tests.
The findings indicated that the lung structure of the anorexic patients differed
from that of the control patients, with a loss of some of the tissue that helps
deliver oxygen to the rest of the body. Similar changes are evident in patients
with emphysema caused by cigarette smoking, and produce shortness of breath
and other respiratory problems.
Previously published animal studies have suggested a correlation between malnutrition
and emphysema. But until the advent of CT, the diagnosis of emphysema relied
on the pathologic examination of lung tissue. According to Dr. Coxson, a study
conducted by Jewish physicians in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation
showed that 13.8 percent of people who died of starvation had emphysema at autopsy
and 68 percent of those were under the age of 50. A much higher rate of emphysema
than would be expected in people under the age of 50, this was the first evidence
linking emphysema to malnutrition.
Created: 1/21/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.