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Anorexia nervosa , or anorexia, is a type of eating disorder. People with anorexia eat so little that they experience unhealthy weight loss and become dangerously thin. Generally speaking, they consider themselves to be overweight or fat, even when they are underweight or simply very thin. Anorexia affects girls and women more than boys and men. Anorexia is a serious health problem that can increase the risk of premature death. But people with anorexia can get better with treatment.
What is anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is a type of eating disorder. Eating disorders are mental health problems that cause extreme or dangerous eating behaviors. These extreme behaviors lead to other serious health problems and sometimes death. Extreme exercise also appears with some eating disorders.
Women with anorexia severely limit the amount of food they eat to avoid gaining weight. Generally, people with anorexia are deeply afraid of gaining weight and may come to think that they are fat when in fact they are thin. Many women with anorexia also exercise too much to avoid gaining weight. Over time, eating so poorly leads to serious health problems and sometimes death.
What are the symptoms of anorexia?
Anorexia causes physical and emotional changes. A girl or woman with anorexia generally looks very thin and may not be in control of her actions.
Some symptoms of anorexia include:
- Humor changes
- Confusion or slow thinking
- Poor memory or poor judgment
- Fine and brittle hair and nails
- Constant feeling of cold due to a decrease in internal body temperature
- Dizziness or feeling weak
- Tiredness or laziness
- Irregular periods of missing a menstrual period
- Dry, red, or yellow skin
- Fine hair growth all over the body (called lanugo)
- Severe constipation or bloating
- Muscle weakness or inflammation in the joints
Girls or women with anorexia may also have behavioral changes, such as:
- Talking about weight or food all the time
- Not eating or eating very little
- Refusing to eat in front of others
- Not wanting to go out with friends
- Make yourself vomit
- Taking laxatives or diet pills
- Exercise a lot
People with anorexia can also have other health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
How does anorexia affect a woman’s health?
With anorexia, the body does not take advantage of the necessary energy obtained from food, so it works more slowly or directly stops working normally. In the long run, anorexia can affect your body in the following ways:
- Heart problems, including low blood pressure, slower heart rate, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and sudden death from heart problems
- Anemia (when red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen to your body) and other blood problems
- Decreased bone mass (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
- Stones or kidney failure
- Missing periods, which can cause difficulty conceiving
- During pregnancy, an increased risk of miscarriage, cesarean section or low birth weight of the baby.
Anorexia is a serious disease that can also cause death. Studies have shown that more women and girls die from anorexia than those who die from any other serious eating disorder or mental health problem such as depression.6 Many people with anorexia also have other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety.
According to some long-term studies conducted over 20 years or more, women who have had an eating disorder in the past generally achieve and maintain a healthy weight after treatment.
How is anorexia diagnosed?
Your doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. It can be difficult to talk to a doctor or nurse about exercises or secret binges. But doctors and nurses want to help you be healthy. Being honest with your doctor or nurse about your diet and your physical training is a good way to ask for help.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and other tests, such as blood and urine tests, to rule out other health problems that could cause serious weight loss.
Your doctor will likely also perform other studies, such as a kidney function test, studies to measure the density of bone tissue or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to see if weight loss has had an impact on your health and with what gravity.
How is anorexia treated?
Your doctor can refer you to a team of doctors, nutritionists, and therapists who will work together to help you get better. If you live with family members, you can invite them to participate in your treatment.
Treatment plans may include one or more of the following, detailed below:
- Nutrition therapy. Doctors, nurses, and counselors will help you eat healthy to reach and maintain a healthy weight. In some cases, patients will need to be hospitalized or enrolled in a residential treatment program (living in a medical institution temporarily) to ensure that they eat enough to recover. Hospitalization may also be necessary to control heart problems typical of patients with anorexia. Reaching a healthy weight is an important part of the recovery process so that the body biology, including brain processes, thoughts and feelings, work properly.
- Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, sometimes called “talk therapy,” is professional help to change any harmful thoughts or behaviors. This therapy can focus on the importance of talking about our feelings and how they affect what we do. You can work individually with a therapist or in groups with other people with anorexia. For girls with anorexia, counseling can include the whole family.
- Support groups ; These may be helpful for some people with anorexia when supplemented with other treatment. In support groups, girls and women, and sometimes their families, come together to share their experiences.
- Medicines. Studies suggest that medications such as antidepressants can help some girls and women with anorexia by counteracting the symptoms of depression and anxiety that in many cases anorexia brings.
Most girls and women improve with treatment and are able to eat and exercise in a healthy way. Some may improve after the first treatment. Others get better but may relapse and need treatment again.