Anorexia Nervosa

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Overview

Anorexia, or Anorexia Nervosa, is a psychological eating disorder in which the patient suffers from an intense fear of gaining weight and distorted perception of their body. To control their weight, they often go to extreme measures of restricting diet to the extent of starvation, excessive strenuous exercise, abuse of laxatives, purging etc. These mentally and physically destructive tendencies to control body weight lead to disruption in daily life and activities.

Causes

The exact cause of anorexia is not known. It is suggested to be due to a combination of biological, psychological, and social or environmental factors. Some risk factors for this condition are:

  • Female gender
  • Young age
  • Genetics
  • Family History
  • Professional background in media
  • Weight changes
  • Dysfunctional family background

Symptoms

The symptoms of this disorder vary from person to person. It is most commonly found in teenage girls. Common symptoms related to extremely low nutrient intake include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Thin, bony malnourished appearance
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting spells
  • Thin, soft hair covering the body
  • Absence of menstruation
  • Dehydration
  • Osteoporosis

These patients also have co-existing emotional and behavioural disturbances such as:

  • Refusal to eat
  • Obsession with losing weight
  • Flat mood
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal ideation

Diagnosis

The diagnostic criteria for anorexia in DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) includes:

  • Restriction of food intake
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Problems with body image

A doctor reaches the diagnosis after careful history, physical examinations, and various tests to rule out other causes of the physical symptoms.

Treatment

Treatment usually requires a team of medical personnel, dietitians, and psychiatrists. Counselling (family based as well as individual) and nutrition education are of prime importance. Severe cases of anorexia may warrant immediate hospitalization and correction of malnourishment and treatment for other complications.

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