What is anorexia nervosa? Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. It tends to be most associated with teenage girls, but the illness can affect both sexes, of all ages, although it is far more common in girls and women. It is difficult to estimate how prevalent the disorder is as by its very nature sufferers become very good at hiding their symptoms, but based on research studies, approximately 1% of young women have some degree of anorexia nervosa.
What is anorexia nervosa and how is it defined?
A patient with anorexia nervosa becomes obsessed with their weight. The illness is a very serious mental health disorder and if left untreated, in time the person will literally starve themselves to death. Anorexia nervosa patients will do anything to lose weight and reach their ideal target weight. To achieve this, they limit their food intake and control everything that passes their lips. They might also exercise obsessively and or take laxatives to purge food from their system.
What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?
As you might expect, the main symptom of anorexia nervosa is extreme weight loss. A person with anorexia nervosa will eat virtually nothing. They may avoid sitting down with the family to eat, or pick at food rather than eating it. Anorexics develop all kinds of habits to avoid eating food: they hide food, lie about what and how much they have eaten, or develop bizarre routines that involve eating specific things at set times.
Some people with anorexia nervosa make themselves vomit after eating to avoid gaining weight. This can cause health problems such as tooth decay and bad breath from stomach acid passing through the mouth continuously.
Many anorexics use medications such as laxatives in their attempt to help lose weight. Laxatives are a popular choice because they empty the bowels, but diuretics are also used to remove excess fluids from the body. Some anorexics also take diet pills and appetite suppressants to enhance their weight loss.
Excessive exercise routines are another common feature of anorexia nervosa. An anorexic is so obsessed with losing weight that counting calories is not enough. They want to burn up extra calories through exercise, which is why a lot of anorexics are drawn to high impact types of exercise such as running and aerobics.
People suffering from anorexia nervosa tend to have low self esteem and once the illness takes hold, they withdraw from family and friends and start wearing loose, baggy clothes in an attempt to hide the effects of their weight loss.
In time, the dramatic weight loss of anorexia nervosa can cause all kinds of physical problems, including extreme tiredness, low blood pressure, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, stomach pains, oedema, and in older girls and women, cessation of periods and infertility.
What is the treatment for anorexia nervosa?
Treatment for anorexia nervosa will involve a combination of psychotherapy and advice on nutrition and healthy eating. The patient will be encouraged to gain weight and monitored closely to check their progress. In severe cases, the patient will need to be hospitalised to help them gain weight.