Anorexia nervosa is a serious psychiatric condition that boasts among the highest mortality rate of any other psychological disorder. Typically anorexia nervosa begins in adolescence (age 14-18). Diagnoses are nine to ten times more common in females than in males with less than one percent actually having the illness. Among those suffering from anorexia nervosa, there is a ten percent mortality rate, of which half of the deaths result from medical complications associated with starvation.
Symptoms are typically marked by an individual’s refusal to maintain a body weight at or above what is minimally normal for his/her age and height. An intense fear of weight gain—stemming from an undue influence of bodyweight/shape on self-evaluation—often leads to a deterioration of self-esteem, as the elusive self-defined target weight continues to plummet over the course of illness. For many individuals with anorexia nervosa, emaciation is a result of severe weight loss; however, young children with the disorder may simply stop gaining normal amounts of weight as they grow.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- a state of starvation
- an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- extreme restriction of food intake
- strict rules regarding what food types are allowed and which are forbidden
- compulsive calorie and/or fat gram counting
- distortions in self-image of weight and shape
- obsessive preoccupations with food that include rituals about food preparation, as well as when, where, and how food is eaten
- excessive exercise
A subtype of anorexia nervosa is marked by episodes of foregoing stringent self-control and binge eating. Self-imposed repercussions may include self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives and diuretics.
Physiological complications of anorexia nervosa, although frequently reversible (with appropriate intervention), often lead to hospitalization and can be fatal. These include:
- growth retardation (among children)
- cardiac and kidney dysfunction
- gastrointestinal difficulties
- loss of menstrual periods and infertility
- osteoporosis (bone density abnormalities)
- dry skin and hair loss
- dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
- dental erosion
- fine hair growth on face and body
- constipation and abdominal pain
- cold intolerance
Psychological problems, including depression and anxiety, are often found in individuals who are underweight and can manifest in a variety of ways such as social withdrawal, irritability, and insomnia.
Effective interventions for anorexia nervosa include cognitive behavioral therapy and family-based treatment.The outcome of treatment for anorexia nervosa varies considerably. For some, a single course of treatment is effective, while other recovery paths are punctuated by shifts from weight gain and recovery to weight loss and relapse.
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