Anorexia means loss of appetite or inability to eat, and it can be a symptom of various diseases. When a person has anorexia, they deliberately restrict their diet as part of a serious and potentially life-threatening mental disorder. This often includes emotional challenges, an unrealistic body image, and an exaggerated fear of gaining weight.
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Anorexia nervosa can affect people in different ways. With the right treatment, recovery is possible.
In some cases, a person may lose a significant amount of weight and display the characteristic behavior of anorexia, but may not have a very low body weight or a very low body mass index (BMI). Researchers call this atypical anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is common in teens or early adulthood, but can sometimes start in the last few years or later in life.
People often think of anorexia nervosa in conjunction with female people, but it can affect people of any gender or gender. Research suggests that the risk of eating disorders may be higher among transgender people than cisgender people.
Statistics show that women with anorexia exceed the number of men with this disorder at a ratio of 10 to 1. The effects of the disorder are more likely to be life-threatening for men than for women. The reason is that men often get a later diagnosis because they mistakenly believe they are not affected by it.
What is anorexia nervosa?
A person with anorexia nervosa will intentionally limit their food intake to lose weight or avoid gaining weight. A person with anorexia nervosa often has a severe fear of gaining weight, even if they have a severely low body weight.
Dietary restrictions can result in malnutrition, which significantly affects overall health and can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.
The emotional and psychological challenges of anorexia nervosa can be difficult for a person to overcome.
The therapy includes counseling, nutritional advice and medical care. Some people may need hospital treatment.
There are a lot of myths about eating disorders. These can lead to incorrect assumptions and affect a person’s chances of seeking and getting help.
Learn more about the myths surrounding eating disorders and the real facts.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms
Anorexia nervosa is a complex condition. The main sign is significant weight loss or low body weight. With atypical anorexia nervosa, the person may still have a moderate weight despite significant weight loss.
A lack of nutrients can lead to other physical signs and symptoms, including:
- severe loss of muscle mass
- , listlessness, tiredness or exhaustion
- low blood pressure
- drowsiness or dizziness
- , low body temperature with cold hands and feet, or possibly hypothermia.
- bloated or upset stomach
- dry skin
- swollen hands and feet
- hair loss, menstrual loss
- or less frequent periods
- , loss of bone density, increased risk of fractures
- or abnormal heart rhythms
- Lanugo, which is fine downy hair on the body
- increased facial hair
, bad breath and tooth decay in people who vomit frequently
The person may also show certain behaviors, such as:
- Limit their overall food intake or choice of foods they consume
- Because they
- are overly concerned about weight, height, diet, calories, and food
- exercise a lot, take laxatives or induce vomiting,
- assess their body weight and height, often
- feeling hungry or avoiding mealtimes
- Development of nutritional rituals, such as eating foods in a specific order
- Cooking for others without eating
- withdrawing from friends and social interaction
- Shows signs of depression
Talk about being “fat” or being overweight
The person may associate eating and eating with feelings of guilt. They don’t seem to be aware that something is wrong, or they’re unwilling to recognize their problems with eating.
Not everyone with this condition will behave in the same way, and some people may develop atypical anorexia nervosa, meaning they are not low in body weight.
Anorexia nervosa causes
Concerns about body weight and body shape are often characteristics of anorexia nervosa, but they may not be the main cause. Experts don’t know exactly why the condition occurs, but genetic, environmental, biological, and other factors may play a role.
For some people, anorexia nervosa also develops as a way to gain control over an aspect of their lives. When the person exercises control over their food intake, it feels like success and that is how the behavior continues.
Risk factors for anorexia nervosa Several factors
may increase a person’s risk of developing anorexia, including:
- previous criticism of eating habits, weight, or body shape
of teasing or bullying, particularly with regard to weight or body shape
Biological and genetic factors
A person may also be more likely to develop an eating disorder if:
- A close relative had a similar disorder
- There is a family history of depression or other mental health issues
- They have type 1 diabetes
In 2015, researchers found that people with anorexia may have different intestines than those without the disease. This could contribute to anxiety, depression, and further weight loss.
Learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected people with eating disorders.
Early diagnosis and immediate treatment increase the chance of a good outcome.
The doctor may ask the person questions to get an idea of their eating habits, weight, and overall mental and physical health.
They may order tests to rule out other underlying conditions with similar signs and symptoms, such as malabsorption, cancer, and hormonal problems.
In addition to a physical exam, this may include:
- blood tests, including coagulation tests, a complete blood count and a comprehensive metabolic profile
- urine tests
- an electrocardiogram imaging test
- , such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or a bone density scan
A psychological evaluation is also necessary to determine whether a person meets the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the following criteria may help doctors make a diagnosis. But they find that not everyone with a severe eating disorder will meet all of these criteria.
- Restriction of energy intake and significantly low body weight for the person’s age, sex and overall health.
- Intense fear of gaining weight or getting fat even though they are underweight.
- Changes in the way the person experiences their body weight or shape, an unreasonable influence of body weight or body shape on the person’s self-image, or a rejection that their current low body weight is an issue.
Anorexia nervosa vs bulimia nervosa anorexia
Nervosa and bulimia nervosa are both eating disorders and sometimes have certain symptoms, such as a severe fear of gaining weight or a distorted body image.
However, people with anorexia often restrict food intake, exercise excessively, or adopt extreme dietary patterns to lose weight.
other hand, bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating or eating large amounts of food, followed by compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, consumption of laxatives, or fasting.
This cycle can also occur in people diagnosed with the anorexia nervosa binge eating/purging subtype.
However, unlike bulimia, anorexia nervosa is also characterized by a significant restriction in energy intake, resulting in significantly low body weight for a person’s age, sex, and overall health.
Treatment and recovery
A healthcare professional creates a comprehensive plan to address the individual’s specific needs.
It will involve a team of specialists who can help the person overcome the physical, emotional, social, and psychological challenges they face.
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help the person find new ways to cope with thinking, behavior and stress,
- Family and individual counseling as well as appropriate
- Diet therapy that provides information on how food can be used to build and maintain
- Health medicines to treat depression and anxiety
- Supplements to correct nutritional deficiencies
- hospital treatment, in some cases
It can be difficult for a person with anorexia to undergo treatment. As a result, the person’s participation in therapy may fluctuate. Relapses can occur, especially in the first 2 years of treatment.
Family and friends can provide decisive support. If they can understand the condition and recognize its signs and symptoms, they can help the individual recover and prevent a relapse.
The person may need to spend time in hospital if they:
- a very low BMI
- Complications due to inadequate food intake
- a persistent refusal to eat
- of a psychiatric emergency
The treatment allows you to gradually increase food intake to restore overall health.
Complications can affect any body system and can be serious.
This includes issues with:
- the cardiovascular system
- the blood, such as a low number of white or red blood cells
- the digestive system, the
- hormonal imbalances
- bone strength
Some of these issues can be life-threatening. In addition to the physical effects of a poor diet, the person may have an increased risk of suicide.
In fact, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment are essential.
Eating disorders can be caused by a variety of factors and there is currently no known way to prevent anorexia nervosa from developing.
However, identifying the symptoms and treating them early can help improve the chances of recovery.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, prevention programs aimed at reducing factors for eating disorders could also be beneficial.
These programs typically include changing public policy, encouraging people to question food culture and media, promoting body acceptance, and replacing restrictive diets with
Living with anorexia
Dr. Maria Rago, Ph.D., president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), offered Medical News Today the following tips to anyone who believes they or a loved one may have anorexia:
- Be nice and respectful instead of being judgmental.
- Look for treatment providers to find good matches and meet with a few people to decide who can best help.
- Imagine a treatment team—consisting of a dietitian, a therapist, and a psychiatrist—all of whom should specialize in eating disorders.
- Make sure you get the best education and support possible.
- Review the treatment plan and make changes when you think it’s better
Dr. Rago noted that ANAD offers free support groups and mentoring programs for recovery and that they invite people to use the free services. “The right help can change your life and even save yours,” she said.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about anorexia nervosa.
What is the nervous part of anorexia?
“Nervosa” is a Latin term that originally meant “nervous” or “strong.” “Anorexia” comes from both Latin and Greek and means “without appetite.”
When “anorexia” was originally used to describe a syndrome in the Middle Ages, “anorexia” referred to a refusal to eat with the aim of religious or spiritual purity. In the 1800s, the term “anorexia nervosa” meant a self-imposed refusal to eat.
What is the difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia is a term used to describe the loss of appetite or inability to eat that can be caused by many health problems. On the other hand, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person intentionally limits their food intake to lose weight or prevent weight gain.
What are the warning signs of anorexia?
There are many potential warning signs of anorexia, including feeling busy with food, exercise, or body weight. Experiencing feelings of guilt or shame after eating, avoiding situations involving food, and withdrawing from friends, hobbies, or activities are a few other possible warning signs.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and a serious mental illness. It involves restricting food intake, which can lead to severe malnutrition.
The effects of anorexia nervosa can be life-threatening, but counseling, medication, and treatment of underlying mental health issues can help people with the condition.
If a person has signs of anorexia nervosa, they should seek medical help. Early diagnosis and treatment are more likely to produce a positive result.