Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by extreme restriction of food intake, leading to dangerously low body weight and severe health complications. It is a serious mental illness with physical consequences, affecting people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder; in fact, up to 20% of those afflicted may die from medical complications or suicide related to the disease.
While there is no single cause for anorexia nervosa, researchers believe that biological factors like genetics and hormones and psychological issues such as low self-esteem or perfectionism can contribute to its development.
Treatment typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition counseling, medication management, family therapy, and support groups. With appropriate treatment and support from loved ones, recovery is possible.
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a multi-factorial disorder with no exact cause. Here are some factors that may contribute to its development:
Anorexia nervosa tends to run in families, and individuals with a family history of the disorder may be more susceptible to developing it.
Underlying psychological issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can contribute to the development of the eating disorder.
Societal pressure to conform to a certain body type, such as thinness, can contribute to the development of eating disorders. This is especially true for individuals who are highly sensitive to cultural messages about body image.
Traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, may also contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa in some individuals.
What Are The Sign And Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness and can have several symptoms. Here are the basic sign and symptoms of it:
- Severe weight loss
- Preoccupation with body weight, body shape, and food
- Refusal to maintain a healthy body weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- Obsessive thoughts about how much food, calories, and nutrition you take
- Distorted body image, seeing oneself as overweight despite being underweight
- Denial of hunger or refusal to eat
- Physical activity or doing exercise excessively
- Irregular menstrual cycles or loss of menstruation (in women)
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Mood swings, anxiety, and depression
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
Individuals exhibiting these symptoms should be observed closely. Proper medical and professional help should be provided in the early stages to prevent anorexia nervosa. If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder or exhibiting these symptoms. It is important to get immediate help for them and address this issue properly before the situation worsens.
Physical Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa
The physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa can be both visible and internal and can have long-term effects on the body. Here are some common physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa:
Severe Weight Loss
Anorexia nervosa can cause visible physical changes, including protruding bones, thin arms and legs, loss of muscle mass, and a gaunt facial appearance due to significant weight loss.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa may feel cold, even in warm temperatures, due to decreased body fat, muscle mass, and lower body temperature.
People with anorexia nervosa can develop digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, induced vomiting, and abdominal pain due to inadequate intake of food and fluids.
Low Blood Pressure And Heart Rate
People with anorexia nervosa can develop low blood pressure and heart rate. This is due to dehydration and malnutrition, which can lead to fainting or dizziness.
Anemia, caused by a lack of iron in the diet and poor nutrient absorption, is common in individuals with anorexia nervosa due to insufficient red blood cells.
Hair And Skin Problems
Malnutrition in individuals with anorexia nervosa can cause hair and skin problems, including dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss, and yellowish skin, due to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the body.
Insomnia And Fatigue
People with anorexia nervosa can develop insomnia and fatigue. This can be because they do exercise excessively or due to malnutrition. Insomnia and fatigue can lead to difficulty sleeping and chronic fatigue.
Psychological Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa
Eating disorder symptoms can include some psychological symptoms aswell. These symptoms can affect a person’s emotional well-being and can be a major barrier to recovery. Here are some common psychological symptoms of it:
Distorted Body Image
People with anorexia nervosa can have a distorted perception of their body size and shape. They may see themselves as overweight or obese, even when they are significantly underweight.
Anxiety And Depression
People with anorexia nervosa can experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as excessive worry, sadness, and feelings of hopelessness.
People with anorexia nervosa may have a strong need for perfectionism. This can lead to rigid thinking, a sense of control, and difficulty adapting to changes.
People with anorexia nervosa can become socially withdrawn and isolate themselves from friends and family members. This behavior can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
People with anorexia nervosa can have low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness due to their perception of their body shape and size.
Impaired Cognitive Function
People with anorexia nervosa can experience impaired cognitive function, such as difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and difficulty making decisions. These symptoms can be due to the effects of malnutrition.
Behavioral Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa
Along with physical symptoms, anorexia nervosa also has several emotional and behavioral signs, some of which have been mentioned below
Obsession With Body Weight And Shape
People with anorexia nervosa may have an intense preoccupation with their body weight and shape, often seeing themselves as overweight or obese even when they are underweight.
Restrictive Eating Habits
People with anorexia nervosa often limit their food intake or eliminate certain foods from their diet, leading to significant weight loss and malnutrition.
Fear Of Gaining Weight
People with anorexia nervosa often have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when they have extremely low weight or are malnourished.
Engaging In Rituals Around Food
People with anorexia nervosa may have strict rules around eating, such as eating only at certain times of the day or in certain locations. They may also engage in rituals around preparing or eating food.
People with anorexia nervosa may engage in excessive exercise to burn calories and control their normal weight.
People with anorexia nervosa may withdraw from social activities or isolate themselves from friends and family.
People with anorexia nervosa often have high standards for themselves. They may strive for perfection in all areas of their life, including their appearance and weight.
How Is Anorexia Nervosa Diagnosed?
To diagnose anorexia nervosa, healthcare professionals use a combination of methods, including physical exams, psychological assessments, and laboratory tests. They refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) criteria. These criteria include the restriction of energy intake, intense fear of weight gain, disturbance in the perception of body weight or shape, and the presence of restrictive eating behaviors.
Healthcare professionals evaluate the patient’s physical health for any medical complications. They conduct psychological assessments to understand the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to food, weight, and body image. But it is difficult to find the exact cause of anorexia. Severe anorexia is so difficult to treat anorexia is the most deadly of any mental illness. It is essential to seek professional help if you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder, as it is a severe and potentially life-threatening disorder.
When To See A Doctor
If you suspect that you or someone you know may have anorexia nervosa, it is important to seek medical attention and treat anorexia nervosa. It is a serious medical condition that can have life-threatening consequences if left untreated.
Here are some signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa that may require medical attention:
- Extreme weight loss or being underweight
- Distorted body image and fear of gaining weight
- Refusal to maintain a healthy weight
- Obsessive preoccupation with food, calories, and dieting
- Excessive exercises or purging behaviors, such as vomiting or laxative abuse
- Fatigue, weakness, or dizziness
- Irregular menstrual periods in females
- Changes in mood, such as depression or anxiety
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention from a healthcare provider who is experienced in treating eating disorders. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation and help develop a treatment plan that may include therapy, nutritional counseling, medication, and medical monitoring to address any physical complications.
Prevention Of Anorexia Nervosa
It’s important to note that preventing anorexia nervosa is a complex task that requires a multifaceted approach. It may involve efforts at the individual, family, and community levels. It may also involve addressing broader societal factors such as media and cultural messages that promote unrealistic beauty standards.
Prevention strategies may not completely eliminate the risk of developing anorexia nervosa. They can help promote a healthy relationship with food, weight, and body image. They can also reduce the likelihood of developing disordered eating behaviors.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From Anorexia?
The length of time it takes to recover from anorexia nervosa can vary widely. This depends on several factors, such as the severity and duration of the illness, exposure to risk factors, the age of onset, the presence of medical complications, and the individual’s willingness to engage in treatment.
In general, recovery from anorexia nervosa can be a long and challenging process. It may require ongoing support and treatment even after initial improvements are made.
Anorexia nervosa is a multi-factorial disorder with no exact cause. Moreover, it can cause life-threatening consequences if left untreated. Recovery from anorexia nervosa is a journey that takes time and effort. It is important to seek help from qualified professionals who can guide you through the process of recovery. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to overcome anorexia nervosa and lead a normal fulfilling life. If you are looking for a professional and customized treatment program for anorexia nervosa, reach out today!