Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:



(Anorexia Nervosa—Adult)


Anorexia is an eating disorder. People who have it are obsessed with losing more weight than needed. They may diet and use other methods to lose weight.

Anorexia can cause health problems. Sometimes it can be fatal.


The cause is not known. It appears to be a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in young women. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Personality and emotional concerns, such as:
    • Low self-esteem
    • Feelings of helplessness
    • Wanting to be perfect
    • Fear of gaining weight
    • Stress
  • Pressure to be thin
  • Having other family members with this problem
  • Difficult child and teen experiences, such as abuse
  • Having other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety
  • A way of life that highlights being thin as ideal
  • Early age of first menstrual period


Physical symptoms may include:

  • Losing too much weight
  • Hair loss or growth of fine hair on the body
  • Yellow or dry skin
  • Loss of monthly periods in women
  • Fainting or light-headedness
  • Problems passing stool (poop)
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Cold hands and feet

Mental and behavioral issues may include:

  • An obsession with food and how much fat and calories are in it
  • Dieting even when thin
  • A fear of gaining weight even when a person is underweight
  • Seeing oneself as overweight when one is not
  • Excess exercising
  • Being secretive about food
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of interest in sex

Anorexia can also lead to other health problems, such as:

  • Anemia
  • Heart problems
  • Bone loss
  • Mineral imbalances
  • Low sex hormone levels
  • Kidney and liver damage
Body Dysmorphia.

Anorexiahttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=67436743anorexia.jpgAnorexiaNULLjpgAnorexiaNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\anorexia.jpgNULL58NULL2008-01-023993836743_12049Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The doctor will ask about symptoms, past health, eating, and exercise. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.

A mental health exam may also be done. Other tests may be:

  • Blood tests
  • ECG to check heart function
  • Bone density tests


The goal is to return to and stay at a healthy weight. It is also to treat problems from anorexia. People with more serious problems will need hospital care. They may need supervised re-feeding.

Other treatment options are:

  • Nutrition counseling
  • Counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family therapy
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Antidepressants to balance chemicals in the brain
    • Vitamins and minerals to boost nutrition
    • Hormone replacement therapy for women


Some steps that may help reduce the risk of anorexia are:

  • Discourage dieting and skipping meals
  • Promote positive body image in adolescents
  • Encourage family meals and talks about healthy eating
  • Focus on healthful eating and not on weight




  • Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anorexia-nervosa.
  • Anorexia nervosa. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa.
  • Anorexia nervosa. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa.
  • Yao S, Larsson H, et al. Genetic and environmental contributions to diagnostic fluctuation in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Psychol Med. 2021;51(1):62-69.


  • Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.