What is anorexia?

anorexiaAnorexia is a general loss of appetite, or a loss of interest in food. According to the National Library of Medicine, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes the patient lose more weight than is considered healthy for his or her height and age.

A person with anorexia disorder may be underweight, but still has an intense fear of putting on weight. They may do too much exercise, diet, use laxatives and other methods to get leaner. Anorexia nervosa typically begins during a person’s teenage years or early adulthood. It is the third most common chronic illness among teenagers. ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) says that between 85% to 90% of all patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are female.

Causes of Anorexia

Anorexia has no single cause. The National Health Service, UK, says that the majority of experts believe the mental disorder is caused by a combination of biological, environmental and psychological factors. Some individuals are thought to have personality traits which make them more susceptible to developing the disease. Being underweight and not having a normal diet may have an effect on the brain which reinforces behaviors and obsessive thoughts related to anorexia nervosa. In other words, under-eating and being underweight can set off a cycle of further weight loss and under-eating. The following risk factors have been associated with anorexia-

  • Being overly obsessed with rules.
  • Having a tendency towards depression.
  • Being overly worried about one’s weight and shape.
  • Being excessively worried, doubtful and/or scared about the future.
  • Being perfectionist.
  • Having a negative self-image.
  • Having eating problems during early childhood or infancy.
  • Having had an anxiety disorder during childhood.
  • Holding specific cultural/social ideas regarding beauty and health.
  • Inhibition – the individual restrains or controls his or her behavior and expression.

Symptoms of anorexia

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, severe weight loss is the primary sign of anorexia nervosa. Patients will typically try to bring their body weight down by severely restricting their food intake.

Physical signs

  • Severe weight loss
  • Listlessness, fatigue, exhaustion.
  • Hypotension – blood pressure is below normal
  • Hypothermia – low body temperature
  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach is bloated
  • Dry skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Alopecia – hair loss
  • Loss of menstruation (or much less frequent menstruation)
  • Infertility
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Brittle nails
  • Arrhythmia – irregular/abnormal heart rhythms
  • Bad breath and tooth decay – this is caused by the acid in vomit
  • Lanugo – fine downy hair growing all over the body
  • More facial hair
  • Constipation
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

Psychological signs

  • Underweight patients insists they are overweight
  • Vomiting after meals
  • Patients may frequently weigh themselves, look at their bodies in the mirror, and measure themselves
  • Obsession with food – the patient may spend a long time reading recipes and cookery books
  • Lying about what they have eaten
  • Refusing to eat
  • Lack of emotion
  • Depressed mood
  • Reduced libido (sex drive)
  • Memory loss
  • Self-denial – patients refuse to acknowledge they have a problem or serious illness
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Over-exercising

Ideally, treatment should consist of a combination of medication, psychotherapy, family therapy and nutrition counseling. The patient needs a comprehensive treatment plan that is tailored to meet his or her requirements. Although getting the patient with anorexia to become actively involved in treatment is sometimes challenging, her or his participation is important.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia, then we urge you to start the process of healing.

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