What Is Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

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Anorexia nervosa, often referred to simply as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by low weight, food restriction, fear of gaining weight, and an overpowering desire to be thin.  Such individuals, who are in fact underweight, see themselves as overweight and tend to exert themselves in order to compete with the definition of ‘thin’. It is a psychological disorder seen in females far more often than males.

Its prognosis is variable, with some people making a full recovery. Others experience a fluctuating pattern of weight gain followed by relapse or a progressively deteriorating course over many years. Being anorexic is an obsession, more similar to addiction. It is an uncommon condition and no definite cause of anorexia nervosa has been determined.

What are the Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?
The main symptom is losing an excessive amount of weight deliberately having body weight that is much lower than what is healthy according to your height and age.

Signs and Symptoms include:-

  • taking medicine to reduce your hunger (such as diet pills and laxatives to make you rush to the loo to avoid putting on weight)
  • cutting food into small pieces or eating very slowly to disguise how little you’re eating
  • trying to hide how thin they are by wearing loose or baggy clothes
  • strict rituals around eating
  • deliberately skipping meals and lying about it
  • eating very little or avoid eating any foods you see as fattening
  • excessive workouts and exercise
  • believing you’re fat when you’re a healthy weight or underweight
  • considering excessive loss of weight as a positive thing
  • an overwhelming fear of gaining weight

Physical signs may include:-

  • unusually low BMI (Body Mass Index)
  • headaches, feeling bloated, constipation and abdominal pain
  • dry skin, hair loss from the scalp, or fine downy hair growing on the body
  • reduced sex drive
  • women facing problems in their menstrual cycle (delay in periods or periods not starting)
  • having trouble sleeping and feeling lethargic

What is the Treatment for Anorexia?
To treat anorexia, hospitalization might be necessary. A reduction in the work capacity of the heart is associated with severe weight loss and starvation. For such individual, hospital treatment must initially focus on correction of malnutrition.

The treatment focuses on weight gain as well as inclusion of multidisciplinary treatment which would help with the psychological issues along with diet and nutrition. Individual therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, group therapy, and family therapy have all been successful in the treatment of anorexia.

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An individuals family can actively help their loved ones to overcome this disorder. The ultimate goal of treatment should be for the individual to accept herself/himself and lead a physically and emotionally healthy life. No medication as such can reduce ones compulsion to starve themselves but some mood stabilizers can be helpful.

Anorexia, just as other addictive diagnosis, take day-to-day efforts, trying to control relapsing. While some may require ongoing treatment for anorexia over several years, some may need it for a lifetime. Factors that seem to predict more difficult recovery from anorexia include vomiting and other purging behaviors, bulimia nervosa, and symptoms of obsessive personality disorder. The longer the disease goes on, the more difficult it is to treat as well.

Anorexia nervosa Treatment
Your doctor may refer you to a team of doctors, nutritionists, and therapists who will work to help you get better. If you live with family members they may be invited to participate in some of your treatment.

Can Anorexia be prevented?
Education about body image, health and nutrition will help an individual overcome the biased thoughts on media image and how one should ideally look like. Helping people internalize a self-image and health behaviors that are inconsistent with those of eating disordered individuals have also found to be effective prevention methods for anorexia.

Researchers are still working on an in-depth analysis on the treatment, however, some may still continue to be anorexic even after treatment. Increased understanding of the causes and treatments for anorexia remain the focus of ongoing research in the effort to improve the outcomes of individuals with this disorder.