Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder and a serious mental health issue. However, recovery is possible with appropriate treatment.
There are often emotional obstacles, distorted body images, and exaggerated fears of weight gain in anorexia nervosa. Nevertheless, it can have different effects on different people.
There can be cases in which an individual loses a significant amount of weight and displays the characteristics of anorexia without being extremely thin or having a very low body mass index (BMI). It is called atypical anorexia nervosa by researchers.
Sometimes it begins in the preteen years or later in life, but it often appears during a person’s teenage years or early adulthood.
Many people relate anorexia nervosa to women, however, it affects both men and women equally. Transgender people may be at greater risk of eating disorders than cisgender people, according to research.
Anorexia affects about 25% of men and is more common among men than among women. This is because males are sometimes misdiagnosed. After all, they are mistakenly told they don’t have cancer.
There is a difference between anorexia nervosa and anorexia. You can suffer from anorexia if you lose your appetite or are incapable of eating.
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What is anorexia nervosa?
People with anorexia nervosa restrict their food intake intentionally to cope with psychological challenges. The fear of gaining weight or wanting to lose weight is often part of this.
In addition to resulting in nutritional deficiencies, dietary restrictions can have serious health consequences, including the risk of death.
Anorexia nervosa can be very emotionally and psychologically challenging for a person to cope with.
Therapy involves counseling, nutritional planning, and medical treatment. There may be times when a person needs to be hospitalized.
Eating disorders are surrounded by many myths. False assumptions can prevent someone from seeking and receiving help.
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Who gets anorexia?
The prevalence of eating disorders like anorexia is higher among females, though it has been increasing among males as well. Several sports, such as wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, and figure skating, are associated with a greater risk of eating disorders, including actors, models, dancers, and athletes.
It is common for people with anorexia to achieve very high academic, athletic, and professional results. Perfectionists who experience depression, anxiety, or obsessive behavior are more likely to develop these disorders. Although it typically occurs during puberty, anorexia nervosa can develop at any time.
Difference between anorexia and bulimia
There are two types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Body image distortion, fear of gaining weight, and distorted body image are common symptoms. They behave differently when it comes to food.
The goal of anorexia is to lose weight through severe calorie restriction and/or purging. Binge eating is a certain type of eating behavior used by people with bulimia to avoid weight gain. An example of such behavior is:
- Intentional vomiting (self-inflicted)
- Inappropriate use of medications, such as laxatives and thyroid hormones
- Excessive exercise or fasting
Anorexia is typically characterized by a body mass index (BMI) below 18.45 kg/m2, whereas bulimia is characterized by maintaining an optimal or slightly above optimal weight.
Anorexia nervosa symptoms
In truth, anorexia nervosa is a complicated condition. The main sign of this is weight loss or a low body mass index. It is possible for an individual suffering from atypical anorexia to still be relatively overweight despite reducing their body weight.
Physical signs and symptoms of malnutrition include:
- Severe loss of muscle mass
- Fatigue, listlessness or exhaustion
- Low blood pressure
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Hypothermia or a low body temperature was showing up on the hand and foot
- Stomach bloating or upset
- Dry skin
- Foot and hand swelling
- Hair loss
- Menstruation stops or is less frequent
- Increased risk of fractures due to bone density loss
- Brittle nails
- Heart rhythms that are irregular or abnormal
- Body hair, known as lanugo
- An increase in facial hair
- Vomiting causes bad breath and tooth decay
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They may also display certain behaviors, including:
- Limiting their intake of food or the types of foods they eat
- Consuming excessive amounts of food, dieting, and watching your weight
- Taking laxatives or forcing yourself to vomit when exercising a lot
- Regularly checking their weight and size
- Being overweight or “fat”
- Refusing to eat or avoiding mealtimes
- Ritualizing the order in which you eat foods, for instance
- Cooking for others but not eating
- Avoiding social interaction and friends
- Depression symptoms
A person can associate food and eat with guilt. They may appear unaware of what’s going on or unwilling to admit that anything is wrong with their eating.
People with anorexia nervosa experience it differently. Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition not typically characterized by low body weight. Some individuals may suffer from atypical anorexia nervosa, which means that minimal weight loss will not be evident.
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Causes of anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa is often characterized by concerns about weight and shape, but they may not be the main cause. Genetic, environmental, biological, and other factors are suspected to contribute to the condition, but experts aren’t sure why it arises.
An individual’s risk may be influenced by:
- Critics of their eating habits, body shape, or weight in the past
- Having been bullied or teased about weight or physical appearance
- Being under societal or professional pressure to slim down
- Low self-esteem
- An obsessional or perfectionistic personality
- Physical abuse
- Having tried dieting in the past
- They feel pressured to fit into cultural norms they don’t understand
- Racism and other historical traumas
Anorexia nervosa might develop as a strategy to gain control over a part of life for some people. Control overeating is felt like a success by the individual who continues this behavior.
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Biological and genetic factors
Additionally, a person is more likely to develop an eating disorder if they:
- A close relative suffers from a similar condition
- There is a family history of depression or mental illness
- Diabetic type 1
In 2015, researchers found that people with anorexia nervosa may have different gut microbes compared to those without the condition. This may lead to obesity, anxiety and depression.
It is important to diagnose a disease early and to treat it as quickly as possible. To identify an individual’s eating habits, weight, and overall health, a doctor may ask them a series of questions.
Tests are sometimes ordered to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms, including malabsorption, cancer, and hormonal issues.
Several criteria below can help doctors make a diagnosis of an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Although not all individuals with serious eating disorders meet these criteria, they mention that they do not necessarily have to meet all of them.
- The person’s age, gender, and overall health are impacted by energy restriction and bodyweight that is significantly low.
- Being underweight and still fearing gaining weight or being fat.
- Individuals who are experiencing a change in their perception of their body weight or shape may experience an undue impact of their weight or shape on their self-image or may continue to deny they have a problem with their weight.
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Anorexia nervosa treatment
Health professionals create a plan that addresses each individual’s specific needs. In this case, a team of specialists will assist the person in overcoming the physical, social, and emotional challenges they are facing.
The following are some strategies:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn new ways to think, behave and cope with stress
- Counseling for families and individuals, as needed
- Food can be used to build and maintain health through nutrition therapy
- Anxiety and depression medications
- Nutritional supplements for resolving nutritional deficiencies
- Some cases may require hospitalization
Anorexia nervosa patients may find treatment challenging. This can lead to fluctuating participation in therapy for the individual. Patients who have been in treatment for less than 2 years are susceptible to relapses.
Support from friends and family is essential. They can offer support and help prevent relapses during recovery if they can identify the condition and its symptoms.
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When the person suffers from one of the following conditions, they may need to stay in the hospital:
- The BMI is extremely low
- Inadequate nutrition can lead to complications
- Refusal to eat persistently
- The mental health crisis
As a result of the treatment, patients will be able to gradually increase their food intake.
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There can be severe complications with every system of the body. The following problems are among them:
- Cardiovascular system
- Low levels of red or white blood cells in the blood
- Digestive system
- Hormonal imbalances
- Bone strength
Life-threatening issues can arise from some of these problems. Poor nutrition may have more than physical consequences. It may increase the risk of suicide.
In a 2012 post on the National Institute of Mental Health website, the event most likely to kill a person was anorexia nervosa.
It is consequently essential to diagnose and treat early.
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Living with anorexia nervosa
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) tells Medical News Today that anyone concerned about anorexia nervosa or a loved one should take these steps:
- Kindness and respect are more important than judgment.
- Seek out and meet with providers of treatment to determine how best to help.
- Consider hiring an eating disorder treatment team, including a dietitian, therapist, and psychiatrist.
- Ensure you get as much education and support as possible.
- Make changes when you think they are necessary to the treatment plan.
Ms. Rago talked about the free support groups that ANAD offers and the mentoring programs they offer as well as the invitation that they extend to everyone. Her words were “get the right help and it can change your life.”
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A severe mental health condition, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. Dieting leads to nutritional deficiencies due to restricting food intake.
A person with anorexia nervosa can face serious health consequences, but counseling, psychological treatment, and medication can help alleviate some of these symptoms.
Anorexia nervosa can be diagnosed when people have symptoms of the disease. It is more likely that a positive outcome will occur if the diagnosis and treatment are made early.