Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that involves obsession about one’s weight and obsession over the amount of food the individual eats and how much exercise they do. The patient with anorexia is often extremely thin and continues to starve themselves or excessively exercise.
Anorexia nervosa is a nervous disorder and an unhealthy way of coping with severe personal issues and being unable to control emotions. Sufferers feel a sense of poor self-worth and continue to try and get thinner in the hope of looking better. They do not see that they are, in fact, too thin and shouldn’t lose any more weight. It is a difficult mental disorder to overcome but is completely treatable under the right circumstances.
In anorexia, weight loss is primarily achieved by severely restricting the amount of calories taken in and by excessive exercise. Some have bulimic tendencies and will binge and purge as well. Misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics is also possible.
The major symptoms of anorexia nervosa include extremely thin weight, fatigue, insomnia, fainting or dizzy spells, abnormal blood cell counts, brittle nails, thinning or breaking hair, soft downy hair covering the body, constipation, cold intolerance, dry skin, loss of menstruation, low blood pressure, osteoporosis, dehydration, arm or leg swelling, loss of appetite, excessive exercise, preoccupation with food, depression and social withdrawal.
Families of patients with anorexia nervosa need to watch out for the patient skipping meals, exercising excessively, eating a severely restricted diet, lying about eating, weighing themselves obsessively, complaining about being fat and not wanting to eat in public. Food rituals are common.
The cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown. It is believed to have genetic factors, socio-cultural factors and psychological factors. If a woman has a mother or sister who had anorexia, they are at higher risk, suggesting a genetic component. Twin studies support this concept. There is an area on the first chromosome that appears to play a role in getting anorexia nervosa. Doctors believe that low serotonin levels play a role in the disease. There may be psychological reasons for getting anorexia nervosa.
Patients often have a low self-esteem and have traits consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder. The modern Western culture that values thinness is believed also to play a role in those who get the disorder. Models, dancers and actors have a high risk of getting the disease of anorexia nervosa.
Risk factors for getting anorexia nervosa include being female, being in the teens or early 20s, having fluctuations in weight and having a genetic tendency toward getting the disease. Life transitions can trigger anorexia nervosa as can being involved in activities like sports, dance, acting, modeling or other activity where thinness is valued. The media and society in general has created legions of those suffering from anorexia nervosa because of a perceived need to be thin.
Anorexia has significant complications from being underweight and malnourished. These include the risk of death, heart arrhythmia, anemia, lack of a menstrual period, bone loss and fractures of the bone later in life, decreased testosterone in males, nausea, vomiting or constipation, electrolyte abnormalities and kidney disease. All the body’s organs can be affected if there is severe malnutrition in the disease.
Mental complications include chronic anxiety or panic disorder, personality disorders, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. Drug abuse can be a complication of anorexia nervosa.
Treatment of anorexia nervosa is imperative because it is a disease you can die from if left unchecked. The main treatment is medical care of the electrolyte disturbances, malnutrition and organ damage. Some of the organ damage is irreversible. A feeding tube may need to be placed so that the weight can be brought up to a normal level.
The patient needs to learn about proper nutrition and how to eat healthy.
Individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy may be necessary to control the obsessive compulsive aspects of the disease. Individual therapy focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy. Family therapy can help the family make good decisions around the patient’s eating problems. Group therapy allows the patient to get in touch with other people involved in the same disorder.
Antidepressants have been shown to have a modest effect on the treatment of anorexia. Medications that control anxiety play a role as well.© Modern Tokyo Times