(CBS) Anorexia strikes nearly one out of 200 women. In total, 24 million Americans of all ages suffer from an eating disorder. Now researchers have determined people with anorexia are much more likely to die than anyone else, even those sufferers of other eating disorders.
The study, published in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry found anorexics are five times more likely to die than people in the general population. The researchers could not pinpoint a main cause of death, but suicide and the overall devastation the disease takes on the body were factors they highlighted.
"The study could not identify how people died, but there is no doubt that the reasons behind this are related to the physical problems of the illness," study author Dr. Jon Arcelus, an eating disorder researcher at Loughborough University in the UK, told Reuters.
Researchers looked at 36 studies published between 1996 and 2010 that tracked 17,000 people with an eating disorder. Overall, 755 people in these studies died, and the researchers' analysis found five out of every 1000 people with anorexia died each year. People with bulimia or another eating disorder were twice as likely to die than people in the general population, the study showed.
Why are people with anorexia more likely to die? One factor is the nature of the disease, where sufferers control calories to dangerous levels.
"They are very malnourished." Dr. Laird Birmingham, medical director for the Woodstone Residence, an eating disorder treatment facility on Galliano Island in British Columbia, Canada, told Reuters. "That isn't the case with the other disorders," he said.
Another reason is because anorexia is a complex disorder, where sufferers have both physical and psychiatric problems, but most facilities only focus on treating the psychiatric problems - which may include depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Unless all aspects of the disease are treated "they won't get better," Birmingham told Reuters.
Anorexia is the third most common chronic disease among adolescents. Females between the ages of 15 to 24 are 12 times more likely to die from anorexia, than from any other cause. Men are also at risk - nearly 10 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are males. Treatments include hospitalizing the patient, inserting a feeding tube, working with a dietician on a weight-gaining plan, and undergoing psychotherapy - which may continue for some time following hospitalization.
The Mayo Clinic has more on anorexia.