Anorexia nervosa-often used interchangeably with anorexia, is an eating disorder and psychological condition characterized by having a distorted body image (believing one is much heavier than they are), and the intense fear of gaining weight or becoming obese.
The exact cause for anorexia nervosa is unknown; however, there are several environmental, biological and psychological factors believed to contribute to its development.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa aim to maintain a low body weight that is abnormal for their height and age. This is typically achieved by practicing unhealthy weight loss habits such as:
- Exercising excessively
- Severely restricting the amount of food consumed
- Vomiting after eating
- Misusing, diuretics, laxatives or diet aides
The symptoms of anorexia nervosa can be physical, emotional or behavioral, and may vary from person to person.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Severe loss of muscle mass
- Thinning hair or hair that breaks easily
- Fainting or dizziness
- Lanugo- soft, downy hair that covers the body
Emotional and behavioral symptoms may include:
- An unhealthy preoccupation with food
- Excessive concern about being overweight
- Adopting eating rituals such as chewing food and spitting it out
- Lying about food intake
- Avoiding eating in public
- Repeated weighing or measuring of the body
- Social withdrawal
Most individuals with anorexia nervosa hesitate to seek help because their desire to stay thin often outweighs their concerns for being healthy. However, anorexia nervosa can be life-threatening, so it is important that they receive the immediate care of physicians and mental health experts to help with overcoming this condition.
The diagnosis of anorexia nervosa generally includes physical exams, lab tests and psychological evaluations. Treatment is often administered by a team of healthcare professionals who are experienced in dealing with eating disorders such as a primary care doctor, dietitian and psychologist. A care plan may include medication, psychotherapy and nutrition education.
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