Review the symptoms of anorexia nervosa

October 9, 2015

Anorexia nervosa is a complex psychiatric disorder that afflicts between two and six percent of North Americans, usually adolescent girls or young women. We'll go over the disorder and its symptoms and help you learn more.

Review the symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Understand the disorder and its behavioral hallmarks

  •  The cause of anorexia — a medical term for appetite loss — is unknown. Researchers believe that a combination of hormonal, social, and psychological factors are responsible. The disease often begins in adolescence, a time of tremendous hormonal and psychological change.
  • Sufferers become convinced that they are overweight or too fat, regardless of their actual weight. Some adopt a very restricted diet, whereas others become overly preoccupied with food. When the anorexic does eat, they may resort to self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse to avoid gaining weight.
  • Many anorexics also exercise obsessively.
  • As the disease progresses, menstruation ceases and nutritional deficiencies develop.
  • Many anorexics try to hide their thinness by wearing oversized clothes.
  • Physical indications of anorexia include fatigue, nervousness or hyperactivity, dry skin, hair loss, and intolerance to cold. More serious consequences include cardiac arrhythmia, loss of bone mass, kidney failure, and in about six percent of cases, death.
  • Anorexics tend to defend their eating habits and resist treatment. Most are treated as out­patients, though hospitalization and nutritional therapy are necessary in severe cases.
  • Anorexia often requires intensive long-term treat­ment, preferably by a team experienced with eating disorders. These teams are often composed of a doctor to treat starvation-induced medical problems, a psychiatrist, and a dietitian. Family members can also benefit from counselling.
  • The biggest hurdle is to help the anorexic overcome their abnormal fear of food and distorted self-image. Counselling is directed at uncovering the source of these fears.
  • In the beginning of treatment, the patient is offered small portions of nutritious and easily digestible foods. Portion sizes and the variety of foods are increased gradually to achieve a steady weight gain. This does not require huge amounts of food. Instead, doctors strive for a varied diet that provides adequate protein for rebuilding lost lean tissue, carbohydrates for energy, and a moderate amount of fat for extra calories. Extra calcium and multivitamins may also be given.
  •  Food intake needs to be monitored closely, as many anorexics are skilled at deceiving others about their eating. But avoid making food a constant source of attention and conflict. Group therapy can be more helpful than parental nagging.
  • Although the term anorexia literally means loss of appetite, people with anorexia nervosa actually ignore hunger and deliberately control their desire to not eat.

Learn the warning signs

Should someone you know exhibit the following warning signs, contact a doctor knowledgeable about eating disorders immediately:

  • Preoccupation with food.
  • Distorted body image, thinking they are fat when they are actually bone-thin.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Refusal to eat.
  • Deliberate self-starvation.
  • Denial of hunger.
  • Obsessive exercise.
  • Loss of scalp hair.
  • Brittle nails and hair.
  • Constant complaining about feeling cold (due to low body temperature).
  • A fine layer of hair on the body or face (like on a newborn).
  • Depression.
  • Irregular or absent periods.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious and difficult condition. Use this guide to understand the basics and identify the disorder, but remember that a knowledgeable medical professional is the best person available to help sufferers of this illness.

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