You Are At: AllSands Home > Health > Diseases > What is anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. The sufferer has a distorted personal body image that may be the result of a mental ailment. There is a severe weight loss due to insufficient calorie intake. Anorexia nervosa is the constant pursuit of thinness. The person refuses to maintain a normal body weight and weighs 85% or less than the norm for their weight and height.

Menstrual periods stop for women and girls are late beginning menstruation. The levels of sex hormones fall for men with the condition. The person denies the risks of low weight, is terrified of becoming fat and is scared of gaining weight even though they are noticeably underweight. They report "feeling" fat even when they are very thin. Depression, irritability, withdrawal, compulsive rituals and strange eating habits often accompany anorexia nervosa.

The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown, but social attitudes and family influences play a role. The condition affects young women and teenage girls. Gorging and vomiting and inappropriate use of laxatives or diuretics may accompany this disorder. Risk factors include being Caucasian, from an upper or middle economic background, being female, and being a goal-oriented person. Four out of 100,000 people are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

The early stages of an eating disorder are sometimes difficult to define. When does normal dieting become a health or emotional problem? When does weight loss become a medical problem? Answering these questions is hard if the person has not yet lost enough weight to qualify for a certain diagnosis. The sooner an eating disorder is identified and treated, the easier it will be to recover. If warning signs are allowed to persist they may become entrenched behaviors and the person may struggle with the symptoms for years.

The person will skip meals, take only tiny portions, will not eat in front of others, eat ritualistically, and mix absurd combinations of food. They may chew food and spit it out before swallowing. They will buy groceries and cook for the family, but will not eat the meals. They always have an excuse not to eat. They will become disgusted with their former favorites like meat and desserts and will eat only a few "safe" foods. They choose low-fat foods with foods with low levels of other nutrients like lettuce, tomatoes and sprouts. They drastically reduce or completely eliminate fat and read food labels thoroughly. If he or she breaks their own rules and eats normal or large portions, they may vomit to get rid of the calories.
The person may sometimes gorge in secret and buy special binge food. They might leave clues that they need and want help: empty boxes, cans, and food packages; smelly bathrooms; run water to cover the sound of vomiting or use excessive amounts of mouthwash and mints. The person may use laxatives, diet pills, water pills etc. to promote weight loss. May abuse alcohol or drugs to deaden the appetite or to escape the emotional pain.

The following are common symptoms of Anorexia nervosa:
Weight loss of 25% or more, cold intolerance, constipation, no menstruation, skeletal muscle atrophy, loss of fatty tissue, low blood pressure, tooth cavities, greater susceptibility to infection, blotchy or yellow skin, dry hair, hair loss and depression.

The person loses, or tries to lose, weight and has excessive fears of weight gain and obesity. They wear baggy clothes to hide fat, hide emaciation, and stay warm. They obsess about clothing size and complain that they are fat even though this is not so. They will spend a lot of time inspecting themselves in the mirror and finding something to criticize, especially breasts, belly, thighs, and buttocks. He or she is never thin enough.

"If I am thinner, I will feel better about myself." They lose the ability to think logically or evaluate objectively and admit and correct the consequences of their actions. They become irrational, argue with people who try to help, and then withdraw, sulk, or throw a tantrum. They become competitive. They strive to be the best, the smallest or the thinnest etc. They will have trouble concentrating and obsess about food and weight.

The goal of treatment is to restore normal body weight and eating habits and treat any psychological issues. Hospitalization may be necessary in some cases. Supportive care, behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and drug therapy are some of the methods used for treatment. Support groups are available in some areas where members will share common experiences and problems.

Treatment programs have a two-thirds success rate in restoring normal body weight. Half of the people affected continue to experience eating and psychological problems. Death may occur from complications or from suicide in up to 6% of the cases. Long-term treatment may be necessary to help maintain a healthy body weight.

Check with a health care professional if you have any of the above mentioned symptoms.