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.
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
- 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:
- Heart problems
- Bone loss
- Mineral imbalances
- Low sex hormone levels
- Kidney and liver damage
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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:
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
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