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Anorexia Nervosa

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder characterized by minimal intake of food, irrational fear of putting on weight and having distorted idea of being fat even if the person is underweight. Although any person from any age group, social or socioeconomic background may suffer from anorexia nervosa, the condition is more common in adolescent females.

Inadequate food intake leads to malnutrition and lack of energy, dizziness, weakness, irregular menstruation and other organic symptoms. Treatment options include restoration of normal body weight by a healthy diet, adequate counseling and medication to treat any associated psychiatric problem, if present.

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa are classified into two categories – (i) physical, and (ii) behavioral and emotional.

  • Physical symptoms include :
    - excessive weight loss along with a sickly appearance
    - severe pallor
    - weakness
    - sleep disturbances (insomnia)
    - irritability
    - irregular or complete stoppage of menstruation
    - sudden blackout
    - thinning of hair
    - excessive hair loss
    - thin downy hair over body
    - bluish discoloration of fingertips
    - constipation
    - dryness of skin
    - low blood pressure
    - irregular feeble pulse
    - sunken eyes
    - dryness of mouth
    - intolerance to cold due to minimal or complete lack of insulating body fat
    - dehydration
    - brittle bones that easily fracture (osteoporosis)
    - swelling of legs and abdomen
  • Behavioral and emotional symptoms such as :
    - person refuses to maintain body weight within normal range
    - minimal eating
    - irrational fear of putting on weight
    - inducing vomiting or overuse of laxative after eating
    - repetitive weighing and mirror gazing
    - untruthful about intake of food
    - emotional bluntness
    - increased irritability
    - social withdrawal

Anorexia Nervosa Complications

Long term untreated anorexia nervosa may lead to number of complications like :

  • Sudden death even if the patient is not underweight because of rhythm abnormality of the heart following deficiency of different electrolytes especially potassium, calcium and sodium.
  • Increased risk of infection.
  • Increased chance of fractures.
  • Reproductive problems both in women due to stoppage of menstrual bleeding and in men, due to deficiency of testosterone.
  • Impaired kidney function.
  • Certain type psychiatric problem like depression, anxiety, irritability, obsessive compulsive behavior, frequent mood swings, abuse of illicit drugs and alcoholism.

Anorexia Nervosa Causes

There is no single factor that can be conclusively linked to anorexia nervosa, however, an interplay among a number of factors may lead to it. Common contributing factors include :

  • Biological factors: although it is not clear whether there is any specific genetic defect associated with anorexia nervosa, change in the level of certain chemicals serotonin in the brain may have some role in anorexia nervosa.
  • Psychological: certain personality traits are often linked with anorexia nervosa. Like extreme perfectionism, obsessive compulsive behavior may contribute to the symptoms of anorexia nervosa
  • Environmental pressure: media portrays thin-figured women as fashionable and highly desirable and this type of social pressure may influence someone to become extremely weight conscious. It is more likely to impact teenage and adolescent girls are easily biased with these ideas.

Anorexia Nervosa Risk Factors

Common risk factors include :

  • Young females.
  • Family history.
  • Changing school, work place or break up in relationship.
  • Being in the public eye such as an actor or model.

Anorexia Nervosa Treatment

Treatment options include correction of electrolyte deficiency, mineral deficiency, planning of healthy diet with adequate calories, drugs to fight depression and anxiety. Anorexia nervosa is a difficult to treat and the focus has to be only term management. The two major obstacles when considering treatment options are that :

  • Patient idoes not want to treated.
  • Relapse of attack of anorexia even after successful treatment.

Psychotherapy, support groups and counseling for family members are essential components of therapy and cannot be overlooked.


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