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Joan Rivers dies at 81: Did her bulimia battle affect her health prognosis?

Joan Rivers battled bulimia.
Joan Rivers battled bulimia.
Photo by Jeff Schear

When Dr. Mehmet Oz invited Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa to his talk show in April, the episode ranged from discussions of Joan's battle with bulimia to her plastic surgery procedures. But did her eating disorder history impact her recovery? Read about her death, announced by her daughter Melissa, by clicking here.

Joan stopped breathing during a medical procedure on her throat. She was kept on life support before pronounced dead.

But Joan's bulimia may have affected her future. When she talked with Dr. Oz, she revealed that her eating disorder started after her husband committed suicide. As Dr. Oz expressed concern about the health dangers of purging, Joan admitted that she felt her dangerous diet was a way that she could control her life.

Despite the risks of bulimia, Joan confessed that she felt wonderful when she purged. She viewed it as the perfect diet, because she could satisfy her hunger yet stay slim. However, she told Dr. Oz at the time that she had stopped the behavior. Read the full details of her discussion with Dr. Oz about her bulimia by clicking here.

According to the National Center for Eating Disorders, however, bulimia inflicts trauma to the body that does not necessarily halt when the purging behavior ceases. The gut wall may be permanently damaged, and the salivary glands can be adversely impacted. Bulimia also affects the throat.

Joan's initial life-threatening episode began when she was having her throat examined. Although it was viewed as a routine procedure, she stopped breathing, reported the New York Daily News on Sept. 2.

Her daughter Melissa has stayed by her 81-year-old mother's bedside. "She is calmer than I've ever seen her," praised a source. "She is her mother’s daughter and she’s tough as nails. She’s the person keeping everyone together."

Melissa also is dedicated to staying slim, although she made no comment about her mother's bulimia. "Right now I am doing one of those cleanses, I hate every minute of it!" she told Showbiz Deluxe in a recent interview. "I am very careful with what I eat and I try to eat healthy."

But even though she told Dr. Oz that she had stopped bulimia, Joan follows an unhealthy diet that can also affect her recovery. She restricts her calorie intake so strictly that she stops eating before 3 p.m., according to New York magazine. When she dines out, she arranges a stack of Altoids next to her plate and eats one at a time rather than a meal.