Anorexia Nervosa

Resting tachycardia, a warning sign in anorexia nervosa: case report

BMC Cardiovascular Disorders
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Research Asset

Abstract

Background: Among psychiatric disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate. During an exacerbation of this illness, patients frequently present with nonspecific symptoms. Upon hospitalization, anorexia nervosa patients are often markedly bradycardic, which may be an adaptive response to progressive weight loss and negative energy balance. When anorexia nervosa patients manifest tachycardia, even heart rates in the 80–90 bpm range, a supervening acute illness should be suspected.

Case presentation: A 52-year old woman with longstanding anorexia nervosa was hospitalized due to progressive leg pain, weakness, and fatigue accompanied by marked weight loss. On physical examination she was cachectic but in no apparent distress. She had fine lanugo-type hair over her face and arms with an erythematous rash noted on her palms and left lower extremity. Her blood pressure was 96/50 mm Hg and resting heart rate was 106 bpm though she appeared euvolemic. Laboratory tests revealed anemia, mild leukocytosis, and hypoalbuminemia. She was initially treated with enteral feedings for an exacerbation of anorexia nervosa, but increasing leukocytosis without fever and worsening left leg pain prompted the diagnosis of an indolent left lower extremity cellulitis. With antibiotic therapy her heart rate decreased to 45 bpm despite minimal restoration of body weight.

Conclusions: Bradycardia is a characteristic feature of anorexia nervosa particularly with significant weight loss. When anorexia nervosa patients present with nonspecific symptoms, resting tachycardia should prompt a search for potentially life-threatening conditions.

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…

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