Anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa, is an eating disorder which can be possibly life-threatening. People with this condition tend to select the type of food they eat and limit their calorie intake, so they experience excessive weight loss and have trouble maintaining the right body weight for their age and height. They sometimes have a false sense of body image and an intense fear of gaining weight.
Causes of Anorexia
The specific cause of anorexia is still unknown, but medical research suggests that a combination of these factors can cause the condition.
Feelings of low self-esteem, inadequacy, anger, loneliness, anxiety and so on can contribute to the development of anorexia. Also, people who have had troubled relationships or a history of being repeatedly teased for their size or weight may want to force changes in their bodies by refusing to eat. In addition, pressure from peers and a society where thinness equals beauty can play a significant role in developing this condition.
Cultural and Environmental Causes
The media and other external factors can influence how a person wants to look or feels they should look.
Physical causes can include hormone changes that control how the body maintains appetite, memory, mood, and thinking. In addition, anorexia can be partially hereditary since it tends to run in families.
Symptoms of Anorexia
The symptoms of anorexia include the following:
- Rapid weight loss.
- Visiting the bathroom right after eating.
- Changes in diet or eating habits.
- Extreme focus on food, calories, cooking or nutrition.
- Cooking for others and not eating.
- Avoiding mealtimes.
- Intense fear of weight gain.
- Feeling fat even when underweight.
- Refusing feelings of hunger.
- Intentional vomiting and use of laxatives.
- Dressing in layers to hide weight loss.
- Inability to realistically assess one’s body weight.
- Depression, irritability or anxiety.
- Frequent illness.
- Social withdrawal.
- Striving for perfection.
- Infrequent, irregular or missed periods.
- Undue influence of shape or body weight on self-esteem.
- Exercising while sick or injured.
- Compulsive exercising.
- Laxative, diuretic, or use of diet pills.
- Feeling worthless or hopeless.
- Brittle hair and nails.
- Dry or yellowing skin.
- Low tolerance for cold weather.
- Dizziness or fainting.
Diagnosis of Anorexia
Diagnosing anorexia is not always easy because patients with this condition are always secretive and in denial, so it can go undetected for a long time.
If symptoms are present, a doctor can perform a medical exam and confirm the person’s medical history. There are no lab tests done to diagnose anorexia directly, but some blood and urine tests can be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
They can also check for bone density and how the organs are functioning; an echogram can be used to check the heart. If no underlying medical conditions are found, patients can be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist to confirm diagnosis.
Treatment of Anorexia
If malnutrition, dehydration, kidney failure or irregular heartbeat are observed, the patient may receive emergency care; otherwise, treatment plans are usually adjusted to meet a patient’s need.
The various treatment plans for anorexia include:
- Group therapy.
- Nutrition counseling.
- Medical care.
At the end of these treatments, patients are expected to reach a healthier weight, develop long-term behavioural changes, change their thinking patterns and be equipped to deal with emotional issues independently.