Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder with potentially serious consequences. Individuals with anorexia have a distorted perception of their bodies. They strive for constant weight loss, even once they've reached a weight that is below normal.
Anorexia leads to harmful behaviours such as the following:
- Preoccupation with weight that intensifies with weight loss
- Significantly reduced food intake
- Bingeing episodes followed by purging (vomiting or use of laxatives)
- Excessive exercise
- Denial of the disorder
Undereating and excessive weight loss can give rise to a number of symptoms. A person with anorexia may present with the following:
- Cessation of menstrual cycles in women
- Bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation
- Weak vital signs (e.g., low blood pressure and heart rate)
- Dizziness and fainting
- Bone loss
- Abnormal blood test results
When a person's food intake no longer meets their body's needs, several organs may stop working properly. Heart problems can occur, such as arrhythmias and weakened blood circulation. Anorexia can also result in death.
In some cases, individuals with a normal body weight may be diagnosed with anorexia and even experience complications.
Causes and triggers
The exact cause of anorexia is unknown. It is more common in women than in men and usually presents during adolescence and early adulthood. Anorexia is associated with a higher risk of psychological disorders, such as depression.
When treating anorexia, the goal is to promote weight restoration followed by long-term maintenance of a normal weight. Treatment has several components:
- Dietary supplementation supervised by a nutritionist
- Use of certain medications to promote weight gain
- Individual or family psychotherapy
- Management of complications:
- Regular monitoring of vital signs and blood tests
- Use of certain medications and supplements (e.g., calcium and vitamin D for bone health)
When should I see a health care professional?
Individuals with anorexia tend to be unaware of their problematic behaviours. If you suspect that someone you know may have anorexia, try to get them to speak to their health care provider.