Anorexia Nevrosa

General Illness Information

Common Name:
ANOREXIA NERVOSA

Medical Term: None Specified

Description: An eating disorder in young previously healthy women, who develop a paralyzing fear of becoming fat, and have a distorted body image. The patient refuses to eat adequately, and continues to want to lose weight even after a reasonable weight loss. Primarily affects teenage and young adult females. Occasionally young males are affected. There is also an absence of menstrual periods.

Causes: Cause of Anorexia Nervosa is unknown. Suggested causes include family and internal conflicts (sexual conflicts). Patient develops a phobia about putting on weight, and is highly paranoid on changes in fashion (as slimness is identified with beauty). Patient suffers symptoms of depression or personality disorder.

Prevention:

  • Confront personal problems realistically.
  • Try to correct or cope with problems with the help of counselors, therapists, family and friends.
  • Patient must develop a rational attitude about weight.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Weight loss to 15% lower than ideal body weight.
  • High energy levels despite body wasting.
  • Intense fear of obesity.
  • Depression.
  • Hungry and preoccupied with food but refusing to eat for fear of gaining weight.
  • They study diets and calories and tend to collect recipes and prepare elaborate meals for others.
  • Constipation and abdominal pain often associated with the overuse of laxatives.
  • Cold intolerance.
  • Refusal to maintain a minimum standard weight for age and height.
  • Distorted body image.
  • The person continues to feel fat even when emaciated.
  • Cessation of menstrual periods.
  • Onset prior to age 25.
  • No known medical illness to account for loss.
  • No other known psychiatric disorder.

Risk Factors

  • Peer pressure to be thin.
  • History of slight overweight.
  • Perfectionist, compulsive or overachieving personalities.
  • Psychological stress.
  • Ballet dancer, models, cheerleaders, and athletes.
  • Inadequate interpersonal relationships.

Diagnosis & Treatment

General Measures:

  • The goal of treatment is for the patient to establish healthy eating patterns so as to regain normal weight.
  • The patient can accomplish this with behavior-modification training supervised by qualified professionals.
  • The appropriate treatment approach addresses underlying issues of control and self-perception.
  • Treatment can usually be done on an outpatient basis.
  • Psychotherapy or counseling for the patient and family.
  • Hospitalization during crises for intravenous or tube feeding to correct electrolyte imbalance, or if patient is suicidal.
  • Therapy may continue over several years.
  • Relapses are common, especially when stressful situations occur.

Medications:

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed.

Activity:

Increased activity as weight is gained back.

Diet:

  • A controlled re-feeding program will be established.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements may be prescribed.

Possible Complications:

  • Chronic anorexia nervosa caused by patient’s resistance to treatment.
  • Electrolyte disturbances or irregular heartbeat.
  • These may be lift-threatening.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Suicide.

Prognosis

Treatable if the patient recognizes the emotional disturbance, wants help and cooperates in treatment. Without treatment, this can cause permanent disability and death. Persons with anorexia nervosa have a high rate of attempted suicide due to low self-esteem.

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