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A User-Friendly Guide to Medically–Related Terms

A User-Friendly Guide to Medically–Related Terms

By Kathryn Cortese, MSW, LCSW, ACSW

Individuals, who find themselves within the experience of eating disorders, as a patient, family member, friend, loved one, or treatment provider recognize the complexities of these diagnoses. The number of medical concerns one can encounter during the course of one of the illnesses is vast. The following is a go-to guide of some terms that may come up during the course of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders. A brief definition follows each term. Please ask your treatment provider to fully explain any term you hear and do not understand.

Acrocyanosis – blue nail beds, fingers, toes  – “symmetric, painless, discoloration of different shades of blue in the distal parts of the body.”[i]

Amenorrhea – the absence of menstruation – one or more missed menstrual periods.[ii]

Amylase – an enzyme that helps digest carbohydrates. It is produced in the pancreas and the glands that make saliva.[iii]

Arrhythmia – Heart rhythm problems (heart arrhythmias) occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. Heart arrhythmias may feel like a fluttering or racing heart and may be harmless. However, some heart arrhythmias may cause bothersome – sometimes even life-threatening – signs and symptoms.[iv]

Boorhave’s Syndrome – spontaneous esophageal perforation…is a potentially lethal medical condition[v]

Bradycardia – a slower than normal heart rate. The heart usually beats between 60 and 100 times a minute in an adult at rest. If you have bradycardia, your heart beats fewer than 60 times a minute.[vi]

Caries – tooth decay, a dental cavity

Cathartic colon – anatomical changes “to the colon secondary to chronic stimulant laxative use.”[vii]

Cognitive dysfunction – brain tissue loss – “the loss of intellectual functions such as thinking, remembering, and reasoning of sufficient severity to interfere with daily functioning.”[viii]

Constipation – infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools that persists for several weeks or longer. Constipation is generally described as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.[ix]

Dehydration – Occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.[x]

Dental erosion – the loss of tooth enamel caused by acid attack.[xi]

Diabetes – also known as diabetes mellitus –“describes a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both.”[xii]

Diuretics – also called water pills, belong to a class of medications that are designed to increase the loss of water and salt from the body. [xiii]

Dysrhythmia – or arrhythmia, is a change in the regular beat of the heart. The heart may seem to skip a beat, beat irregularly, or beat very rapidly or very slowly.[xiv]

Edema – swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. Although edema can affect any part of your body, it’s most commonly noticed in the hands, arms, feet, ankles and legs.[xv]

Electrolyte – Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge. They are in your blood, urine and body fluids. Maintaining the right balance of electrolytes helps your body’s blood chemistry, muscle action and other processes.  Sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate and magnesium are all electrolytes.[xvi]

Electrolyte imbalance – Levels of electrolytes in your body can become too low or too high. That can happen when the amount of water in your body changes, causing dehydration or overhydration. Causes include some medicines, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating or kidney problems.[xvii]

Emetic – an agent that causes vomiting.[xviii]

Estradiol– an estrogen hormone.[xix]

Estrogen – The estrogenic hormones are uniquely responsible for the growth and development of female sexual characteristics and reproduction in both humans and animals. The term “estrogen” includes a group of chemically similar hormones: estrone, estradiol (the most abundant in women of reproductive age) and estriol.[xx]

Female athlete triad – a syndrome of three interrelated conditions that exist on a continuum of severity, including: Energy Deficiency with or without Disordered Eating, Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea, Bone Loss/Osteoporosis.[xxi]

Gastroparesis – a condition in which the muscles in your stomach don’t function normally.[xxii]

Gastrointestinal bleeding – Your digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum, and anus. Bleeding can come from any of these areas. …GI bleeding is not a disease, but a symptom of a disease.[xxiii]

Hormones – vital chemical substances in humans and animals. Often referred to as “chemical messengers,” hormones carry information and instructions from one group of cells to another. In the human body, hormones influence almost every cell, organ and function. They regulate our growth, development, metabolism, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, the way our bodies use food, the reaction of our bodies to emergencies and even our moods.[xxiv]

Hypertension – Blood pressure is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. Hypertension is another term used to describe high blood pressure. …High blood pressure (hypertension) is when your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above most of the time.[xxv]

Hypokalemia – Low potassium refers to a lower than normal potassium level in your bloodstream. Potassium is a chemical (electrolyte) that is critical to the proper functioning of nerve and muscle cells, particularly heart muscle cells. Normally, your blood potassium level is 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter. (mmol/L). A very low potassium level (less than 2.5 mmol/L) can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention.[xxvi]

Hypophosphatemia – a low level of phosphorus in the blood.[xxvii]

Hypotension – Low blood pressure …can cause symptoms of dizziness and fainting. In severe cases, low blood pressure can be life-threatening. Although blood pressure varies from person to person, a blood pressure reading of 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or less systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) or 60 mm Hg or less diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) is generally considered low blood pressure.[xxviii]

Hypothermia – dangerously low body temperature, below 95 F (35 C).[xxix]

Ketoacidosis – DKA – “Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious condition that can lead to diabetic coma (passing out for a long time) or even death. When your cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy, your body begins to burn fat for energy, which produces ketones. Ketones are acids that build up in the blood and appear in the urine when your body doesn’t have enough insulin. They are a warning sign that your diabetes is out of control or that you are getting sick.”[xxx]

Lanugo – a symptom of deep starvation, is characterized by a soft, downy, fine white/light hair that grows mainly on the arms, chest, body and face of individuals with eating disorders. The body grows lanugo as a means of insulating itself to maintain body temperature as fat stores are depleted. It is most commonly seen in patients with anorexia nervosa.[xxxi]

Laxatives – can be useful constipation remedies, but they are not a substitute for eating enough fiber, getting regular exercise, and drinking plenty of fluid.[xxxii]

Mallory-Weiss tears – Severe and prolonged vomiting can result in lacerations (tears) in the lining of the esophagus. Mallory-Weiss syndrome (MWS) is a tear in the mucous membrane (inner lining) where the esophagus meets the stomach.[xxxiii]

Malnutrition – the condition that occurs when your body does not get enough nutrients.[xxxiv]

Orthostatic hypotension – a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 20 mm Hg or a decrease in diastolic blood pressure of 10 mm Hg within three minutes of standing when compared with blood pressure for the sitting or supine position.[xxxv]

Osteopenia – ”Osteo” means bone and “penia” indicates a state of being low in quantity. The term osteopenia refers to a bone density which is somewhat less, not excessively less, than a “standard” young person (someone in their mid to late 20s) of the same gender…. It indicates a relatively low bone mass.[xxxvi]

Osteoporosis – is a disease of the bones that happens when you lose too much bone, make too little bone or both. As a result, your bones become weak and may break from a minor fall or, in serious cases, even from sneezing or bumping into furniture.[xxxvii]

Prolonged QT syndrome – Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day to circulate blood throughout your body. To pump blood, your heart’s chambers contract and relax. These actions are controlled by electrical impulses created in the sinus node, a group of cells in the upper right chamber of your heart. These impulses travel through your heart and cause it to beat. After each heartbeat, your heart’s electrical system recharges itself in preparation for the next heartbeat. This process is known as repolarization. In long QT syndrome, your heart muscle takes longer than normal to recharge between beats. This electrical disturbance, which often can be seen on an electrocardiogram (ECG), is called a prolonged Q-T interval.[xxxviii]

Renal insufficiency – is poor function of the kidneys that may be due to a reduction in blood-flow to the kidneys caused by renal artery disease. …Patients suffering from renal insufficiency can have no symptoms or mild ones. Others can experience severe hypertension.[xxxix]

Seizure – the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.[xl]

Syncope – fainting – the brief loss of consciousness and posture caused by a temporary decrease in the blood flow to the brain. Syncope may be associated with a sudden fall in blood pressure, a decrease in heart rate or changes in blood volume or distribution. The person usually regains consciousness and becomes alert right away, but may experience a brief period of confusion.[xli]

Tachycardia – a very fast heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute.[xlii]

Eating disorders have an impact on the body and soul of the individual. They take away a person’s health and selfhood. Be kind to yourself today and know that hope and recovery are real.

About the Author:
Kathryn Cortese, MSW, LCSW, ACSW is a psychotherapist who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders for over twenty years. Since October 2013, Kathy has been a partner in Salucore, the company that develops and publishes the Gurze/Salucore Eating Disorder Resource Catalogue and maintains EatingDisordersRecoveryToday.com.

[i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3827510/
[ii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/basics/definition/con-20031561
[iii] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003464.htm
[iv] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000468.htm
[v] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2431304/
[vi] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bradycardia/basics/definition/con-20028373
[vii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9649012
[viii] http://mpkb.org/home/symptoms/neurological/cognitive
[ix] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/basics/definition/con-20032773
[x] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dehydration/basics/definition/con-20030056
[xi] http://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/mouth-conditions/dental-erosion
[xii] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/diabetes/
[xiii] http://www.healthline.com/health/diuretics#Overview1
[xiv] http://www.humanillnesses.com/original/Conj-Dys/Dysrhythmia.html
[xv] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/basics/definition/con-20033037
[xvi] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
[xvii] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/fluidandelectrolytebalance.html
[xviii] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/emetic
[xix] http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/estradiol-transdermal-route/description/drg-20075306
[xx] http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/estrogem
[xxi] http://www.femaleathletetriad.org/for-professionals/what-is-the-triad/
[xxii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gastroparesis/basics/definition/con-20023971
[xxiii] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/gastrointestinalbleeding.html
[xxiv] http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/estrogen
[xxv] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000468.htm
[xxvi] http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/low-potassium/basics/definition/sym-20050632
[xxvii] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000307.htm
[xxviii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-blood-pressure/basics/definition/con-20032298
[xxix] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-blood-pressure/basics/definition/con-20032298
[xxx] http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/ketoacidosis-dka.html
[xxxi] http://glossary.feast-ed.org/2-eating-disorders-symptoms-and-behaviors/lanugo
[xxxii] http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health/all-about-laxatives.aspx
[xxxiii] http://www.healthline.com/health/mallory-weiss-tear#Overview1
[xxxiv] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000404.htm
[xxxv] http://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0901/p527.html
[xxxvi] http://www.betterbones.com/osteoporosis/aboutosteopenia.aspx
[xxxvii] http://nof.org/learn
[xxxviii] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/long-qt-syndrome/basics/causes/con-20025388
[xxxix] http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/vascular/diseases/renal_insufficiency.html
[xl] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003200.htm
[xli] http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/disorders/syncope
[xlii] http://www.texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/Cond/arrhycat.cfm






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