The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill paired with Norwegian researchers on a study involving rates of unplanned pregnancy in women with anorexia nervosa. According to the research results, women with the eating disorder are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and medically induced abortions as a result of unplanned pregnancies.

Researchers believe the higher rates of unplanned pregnancy may be associated with the misconception that a menstrual cycle is needed for pregnancy. Many anorexia nervosa patients cease to have periods due to extreme weight loss or insufficient nutrition. Others may have sporadic periods leading them to believe they cannot become pregnant and thus fail to use proper pregnancy prevention methods.

Data for the study was collected from more than 62,000 women. Only 62 women out of 62,000 reported suffering from anorexia nervosa. Women with anorexia nervosa tended to have their first child about 2 ½ years before women who did not report having an eating disorder. About 50% of women with anorexia nervosa revealed pregnancies were unplanned and 24% revealed the pregnancies were aborted.

Not only is this study important to education efforts aimed at young girls and women suffering from eating disorders, but also to the education efforts against the transmission of sexually transmitted disease. Many forms of pregnancy protection also protect women from contracting sexually transmitted disease. Just because periods have stopped does not mean women with anorexia nervosa are protected from HIV, AIDS, and other life-threatening viruses and illnesses.

Source: Elizabeth R. Hoffman MD, Ann Von Holle MS, Leila Torgersen Ph.D., Camilla Stoltenberg MD, Ted Reichborn-Kjennerud MD. Obstetrics & Gynecology. November 2010.

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