Early warning signs of anorexia (anorexia nervosa) can be very difficult to distinguish from the normal behavior of eating or dieting.
Symptoms of anorexia can also be hidden, attributed to other health conditions or discarded as side effects of prescribed medications.
However, professionals treating eating disorders can distinguish the symptoms of anorexia from other medical conditions by identifying physical signs such as:
extreme weight loss;
abnormal blood counts;
elevated liver enzymes;
dizziness or fainting;
low blood pressure;
osteoporosis, the loss of calcium in the bones, which can result in broken bones.
What is anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person is obsessed with weight, body shape and food intake to the point of self-imposed starvation.
Anorexia usually develops in young women during adolescence, but increasing reports cite symptoms of anorexia and other eating disorders in preteen girls and boys.
The symptoms of anorexia nervosa appear in two interrelated patterns:
Conscious refusal to maintain a healthy body weight for the age and height of a man or woman.
Severely distorted self-image and obsession with the perception that he is overweight even when he is severely underweight.
To avoid gaining weight or continuing to lose weight, a person with anorexia nervosa will severely restrict food intake or do excessive exercise and resist efforts to change behavior.
Without proper treatment of eating disorders, anorexia can reduce the person to a point where they are skeletally thin, but still think they are overweight.
What Causes Anorexia?
Much work still needs to be done to understand the causes of anorexia nervosa. As with bulimia, other eating disorders and addiction, anorexia involves a complicated interaction between biological,
psychological and social factors.
Doctors, therapists and staff at anorexia treatment centers have recognized more recently that genetics play a role in the development of anorexia.
It may be that some people have a genetic tendency for perfectionism, sensitivity and rigidity, all of the traits associated with anorexia nervosa.
Psychological and emotional characteristics may also leave some people more susceptible to seek emotional relief through starvation.
Common examples observed in anorexics are:
low self-esteem, which may result from unresolved experiences of neglect or abuse during childhood;
obsessive or compulsive personality traits that facilitate adherence to strict diets and resist hunger;
perfectionism, when centered on the body, leads to distortions of thought like "Im never thin enough";
low levels of serotonin, one of the brain chemicals involved in depression.
Peer pressure may fuel the desire to be thin, particularly among adolescent girls, who over time view anorexic symptoms as normal, even positive, traits.
What are the effects of anorexia nervosa?
The effects of anorexia vary depending on the severity of the disease. They tend to get worse as the thoughts about food push away the thoughts of an anorexic more and more.
forced withdrawal from school or college;
loss of connection with faith or religion;
Isolation of friends and family;
The physical effects of hunger are often irreversible and reflect the extremely high rate of deaths
associated with anorexia nervosa:
disconnection of major body systems;
What other signs or symptoms should I look for?
Anorexia nervosa is a complicated disease that affects every man or woman differently. There are
several patterns of signs and symptoms of anorexia that experts in treating eating disorders know
they should look for:
abuse of stimulants;
purging behavior with hunger.
Anorexia nervosa is a very serious eating disorder, particularly if it is accompanied by concomitant
psychiatric and addictive disorders. Like bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders, anorexia is a
medical condition that can result in irreversible health complications, including death.