Nontuberculous mycobacterial lung infections in patients with eating disorders: plausible mechanistic links in a case series

AME Case Reports
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS Daniela Grayeb, MD, FACP, CEDS Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS


Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) are widely distributed in the environment and are almost always acquired into the lungs by bioaerosol inhalation or aspiration of NTM-contaminated water, biofilms, and soil. NTM are increasingly recognized as causes of lung diseases in immunocompetent hosts, a not insignificant number of whom have a life-long or nearly life-long slender body habitus as well as thoracic cage abnormalities such as scoliosis and pectus excavatum. While several hypotheses have been offered to explain the purported increase in susceptibility to NTM lung disease in such individuals, the precise explanation remains unknown. We described three patients with eating disorders associated with severe malnutrition and either purging behaviors or other risks for aspiration who were diagnosed with NTM lung infections-the largest number of such patients to date in a single report. We discuss the clinical and experimental evidence that low body weight and chronic vomiting with attendant jeopardy for aspiration, as seen in patients with eating disorders, may represent risk factors for NTM lung disease. We also speculate the possibility of occult and undiagnosed eating disorders in some of the slender NTM lung disease patients with no known risk factors for the opportunistic infection other than their low body weight.

Written by

Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Dr. Philip S. Mehler began his career at Denver Health more than 35 years ago and was formerly its Chief of Internal Medicine and then Denver Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) until he was promoted…
Written by

Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS

Dennis Gibson, MD, FACP, CEDS serves as the Clinical Operations Director at ACUTE. Dr. Gibson joined ACUTE in 2017 and has since dedicated his clinical efforts to the life-saving medical care of…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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