What is Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa, commonly called as anorexia, is an eating disorder in which the patient has an extreme and unjustified fear of gaining weight. The patient usually has a weight which is less than normal, is obsessed with food and suffers from a low self-esteem. Because of his obsession with his weight, a patient suffering from anorexia often takes drastic measures and may be dangerously thin.
In order to lose weight or to prevent any gain in weight, patients suffering from anorexia may strictly cut down their food intake, resort to vomiting after every meal, or misuse medicines like laxatives, diuretics and enemas.
More than a medical issue, anorexia is a psychological issue.
Symptoms of Anorexia
The symptoms of anorexia can be broadly categorized into two groups- physical symptoms and emotional symptoms.
Physical symptoms of anorexia
- Patient appears thin
- Excessive loss of weight
- Blood counts are deranged
- Fragile hair
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Cold intolerance
- Irregular bowel movement
- Swelling of limbs
- Irregular heart beat
- Low blood pressure
Emotional symptoms of anorexia
- Very little food intake
- Binge eating which may be followed by vomiting
- Abusing medicines like laxatives and enemas
- Reduced libido
- Suicidal tendencies
Causes of Anorexia
Some people are genetically more inclined to be perfect. They are extremely sensitive to what others feel or say about them. These people are more likely to develop anorexia. Excessive anxiety may also be a factor behind anorexia. Peer pressure, especially among girls, may also cause anorexia. The pressure to conform to a specific body type, as propagated by media, may also pressurize young children to lose weight.
Risk Factors For Anorexia
Some of the important risk factors that may lead to anorexia include:
- Being a Young Girl: Young girls are more likely to develop anorexia. However, the condition has been seen across all age groups.
- A Positive Family History: History of anorexia in parents, siblings, or first degree relatives increases the likelihood of developing anorexia.
- Nature of Work: People who are into sports, modeling or acting are under a lot of pressure to lose weight.
Complications of Anorexia
Inadequate food intake may lead to several deficiencies like those of iron. This, in turn, may cause severe anemia and absence of menstrual periods in women. Osteoporosis may cause fractures. Men suffering from anorexia may have reduced testosterone levels. As patients of anorexia have low self-esteem, they may develop suicidal tendencies. Malnourishment affects all the organs of the body. The damage caused to these organs may be irreversible.
Depression and anxiety may lead to substance abuse as well. Irregular heartbeats, or electrolyte imbalance resulting from abuse of diuretics, may lead to sudden death.
Diagnosis of Anorexia
In order to label a patient as suffering from anorexia, he must meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. These criteria include:
- Eating food less than the amount recommended for the patient’s age and height
- Extreme fear of gaining weight even if the patient is grossly undernourished. This fear may make the patient vomit or use laxatives after every meal.
- Patient has serious issues about his body image. This may make him eat very little despite being underweight.
Treatment of Anorexia
Anorexia is treated using a multi-pronged approach. It involves psychotherapy, medications as well as life style changes.
Psychotherapy: While the individual suffering from anorexia may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, his family is also involved in the treatment plan. Parents are requested to monitor the food intake of the individual and see if the weight gain is adequate.
Medications: Medicines do not have much role in the treatment of anorexia. However, some patients may benefit with antidepressants and sedatives.
Lifestyle Changes: Patients are counseled not to check their weight or look at themselves in the mirror frequently. Family members should engage the patients in family activities so that they don’t feel left-out.