What is it?
Anorexia nervosa (usually referred to simply as anorexia and whose medical coding is 307.1) is primarily a psychological disorder, which causes the sufferer to stop eating and can eventually lead to death through starvation. According to Medicinenet, 95% of those affected by the illness are female.
Patients develop an obsessive attitude towards food, drink and sometimes exercise as well as a strong fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Often, the sufferer will go to any lengths to restrict their calorie intake, including self-induced vomiting (a disorder called bulimia) and excessive consumption of laxatives and diet pills. Over time, losing weight becomes a sign of control over the body.
What are the causes?
There is no singular cause of the disorder and, over the years, researchers have found that many different factors can trigger anorexia. These include:
- Pressures from family or social circles to be thin
- Problems in childhood, such as abuse or dysfunctional family relations, leading to low self-esteem in adulthood
- Using dieting as a means of gaining control in life
- Anorexia in the family – a person is 10 to 20 times more likely to develop the disease if their sibling has it, according to helpguide.org
- Brain chemisty – many sufferers have reportedly been found to have higher levels of stress-inducing hormone cortisol and lower levels of happy hormones serotonin and norepinephrine
What are the symptoms?
It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose the illness before it has progressed into its more advanced stages because sufferers tend to go to great lengths to hide it. When it does make itself apparent however, some signs and symptoms include:
- Drastic weight loss
- Ritualistic eating habits such as cutting food into small pieces, refusing to eat in front of others, making meals for others while refusing to eat themselves
- Depression, anxiety and possible substance abuse
- Loss of hair, nails becoming brittle
- Growth of fine hair on the body
- No more menstruation
- Dry and yellowing skin
- Feeling weak and faint but restless at the same time
- Being much more sensitive to the cold
- Aches and pains
Over a prolonged period of time, the illness can have very serious consequences, such as:
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure and low blood pressure
How is it treated?
Sometimes anorexics become so underweight they need to be hospitalized in order to not die. The most difficult task is that of trying to treat a sufferer against their will. While in hospital, doctors can more actively and effectively offer assistance in gaining weight, though it will continue to be extremely frightening to the patient. Research has shown that the closer to normal a patients body weight is at the end of treatment, the more likely they are to recover, according to helpguide.org.
Therapy and counselling usually play a vital part in treating the condition by helping sufferers understand their behaviour and figure out practical ways of dealing with it.
Image: Jaci BerkopecTags: anorexia bulimia causes eating disorder symptoms weight