Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa

Overview

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the person is unable to maintain a healthy weight for their size, often due to not consuming enough food or exercising too much. Those with the disorder often have a very distorted body image, and see themselves as “fat” or too large in certain areas of their body. They often have an intense fear or phobia of gaining weight or becoming what they perceive as “fat.”

Many with anorexia nervosa are obsessively preoccupied with limiting or restricting their food intake, or they may be overly pre-occupied with exercise. They often avoid what they think are unhealthy or high calorie foods. Whatever meals they consume will either be very small, composed only of perceived “healthy” foods, or will be extremely portioned or weighed. They will often constantly check on their body weight, either in the mirror or with scales.

Other weight control mechanisms those with the disorder often employ include abuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or excessive exercise. Biological females with anorexia nervosa often have a delayed first period, or may then experience amenorrhea (a total absence of periods.)

Cause Of Anorexia Nervosa

The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown currently. Many factors are involved, including hormones, genes, and the social attitudes around body type in the person’s culture.

Anorexia risk factors can include:

  • Prevalent unhealthy cultural or social ideas about health and physical beauty
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Being overly concerned with perfection or following rules
  • Past eating difficulties during their infancy or early childhood
  • Being very aware or worried about their weight and body shape
  • A negative self-image

The disorder often first appears in the person’s pre-teen years, or during early adulthood. It’s most commonly seen in females, but it does exist in males, and should not be discounted.

Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa

The most common characteristic symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:

  • A refusal to eat healthy amounts of food, or refusing to eat enough to maintain a healthy normal minimum weight for their build
  • Intense fear around the possibly of gaining weight or becoming fat, even if the person is severely underweight
  • Disturbances in self-perception of body weight, assigning body weight or personal appearance as the most important aspect of their lives, or denying the potential harm that a low body weight can cause

Treatment 

Untreated anorexia nervosa can cause cardiac issues, osteoporosis, infertility, relationship difficulties, depression, suicide, and in some cases death from complications related to their severely low body weight.

Available treatments include medications, family therapy, nutrition counseling, or psychotherapy. Therapy and counseling can be helpful, when coupled with medical attention towards nutritional and health needs. However, the condition is notoriously difficult to treat.

For severe situations, the person may need hospitalization, especially if they’re suffering from malnutrition, severe weight loss, a psychiatric emergency, or a persistent refusal to eat.

When the person is in the process of gaining weight back from dangerous levels, they’ll have to gradually increase their food intake levels. This ensures that the process remains safe.

The three main goals of treatment are:

•Treating and eliminating body image issues and their associated psychological disturbances

•Restoring the person to their proper weight for their body size, and stopping their habit of severe dieting 

•Attaining successful long-term remission of their disorder through rehabilitation, or even a full and complete recovery

Exams and Tests 

Diagnostic tests for anorexia nervosa will ensure the person’s weight loss isn’t due to some other cause, or to see what possible damage their weight loss has done to their body. Many of these tests are then repeated over time. This will help monitor the person’s progress or status.

For example, tests include:

  • An albumin blood test
  • Thyroid function tests
  • A urinalysis exam
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Kidney function tests
  • An electrolytes test
  • A CBC blood test
  • A bone density test to check for osteoporosis
  • Liver function tests
  • A total protein test