What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by distorted body image, emaciation, fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and an unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight. People who have anorexia nervosa may carefully control their food intake, exercise excessively, vomit, or use pills to lose weight. They often do not recognize they have a problem and may even think they are overweight.

Mental Health Spotlight

Anorexia nervosa most commonly affects adolescent and young adult women, but it can also affect men, children, and older adults. The cause is not known, but genetics and cultural environment may play a role. Identified risk factors include childhood digestive problems, concerns about weight, family history of anorexia nervosa or addiction, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and stress. Coexisting physical and psychiatric conditions are common.

Women who have anorexia nervosa typically do not have menstrual periods. Cold sensitivity, constipation, development of fine hair (lanugo), dry skin, hair loss, and muscle loss are common symptoms. The pulse and breathing rate may be slow and the blood pressure may be low.

Anorexia nervosa is treatable, although some people relapse following treatment. Hospitalization may be required at the beginning, especially if medical complications, ongoing weight loss, severe depression, or severe malnutrition is present. Psychotherapy is typically recommended. Treatment may include medications, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics, especially if the person is experiencing mood or anxiety symptoms.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious medical condition with potentially life-threatening complications, including severe dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, abnormal heart rhythms, malnutrition, infections, and seizures. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, cold and clammy skin, confusion loss of consciousness for even a brief moment, decreased or absent urine output, dry mucous membranes, fever, irregular heart rate (arrhythmia), pale skin or pallor, profuse sweating, rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), seizure, weakness, or thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, are severely underweight; have a preoccupation with food, exercise or weight; or are being treated for anorexia nervosa but symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

Many symptoms of anorexia nervosa are related to preoccupation with weight. Others are related to changes in the body and its functions due to malnutrition and dehydration.... Read more about anorexia nervosasymptoms

CAUSES

What causes anorexia nervosa?

The cause of anorexia nervosa is not known. Genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Even though the cause is not known, risk factors have been identified.... Read more about anorexia nervosacauses

TREATMENTS

How is anorexia nervosa treated?

The first step in the treatment of anorexia nervosa is getting the person to recognize that a problem exists. This can be challenging, because many people who have it deny that they have an eating disorder and may even see themselves as overweight.... Read more about anorexia nervosatreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Your Guide to Eating Disorders

This Article is Filed Under: Eating Disorders, Mental Health and Behavior


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