"Eating disorder" is a fairly benign name for a range of behaviors that can have devastating consequences, causing permanent, even life-threatening, damage to multiple organs. These disorders can also compromise mental health.

That's why specialists underscore the need for early intervention by patients, family, friends or physicians before damage becomes irreversible.

Here are physical complications that may arise from each of the common eating disorders, with an explanation of how these effects damage the body.

* Anorexia nervosa

Organs and systems affected: heart, kidneys, bones, muscles.

Symptoms may include low pulse, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, constipation, cold intolerance, loss of menstrual cycle, bone loss, swelling of joints, irregular heart rhythms, reduced muscle mass, fatigue, fainting, weakness, clinical depression, anxiety.

Potential causes of death: starvation, cardiac arrest, kidney failure.

Why: Nutritional deficit stresses the heart and other organs.

* Bulimia

Organs and systems affected: heart, esophagus, teeth, salivary glands, pancreas.

Symptoms may include peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, dehydration, clinical depression, anxiety.

Potential causes of death: cardiac arrest, pancreatitis.

Why: Electrolyte imbalance can produce irregular heartbeat or heart failure. Loss of potassium from repeat vomiting damages heart muscle. Repeat vomiting can also inflame esophagus, erode tooth enamel, damage salivary glands.

* Binge eating

Organs and systems affected: heart, gallbladder.

Symptoms may include obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, clinical depression.

Potential causes of death: heart disease, cancer.

Why: Uncontrolled eating taxes organs.

Sources: the federal Office on Women's Health and the nonprofit National Eating Disorders Association