Anorexia nervosa is a psychical eating disorder that is characterized by body image distortion and excessively low weight. The self esteem from people suffering from anorexia does not only depend on claimed performance in the job, hobbies or private life but especially the ability to control their body weight. This can be achieved by starvation, excessive exercise, vomiting, or using laxative and diet aids. Anorexia takes a huge physical and psychological toll on those afflicted with it and it has the highest death rate of any other psychiatric illness.
Figures and Statistics
- Circa 90-95% are girls and women (American Psychiatric Association).
- Around 0.5-1% of american women suffer from anorexia nervosa.
- It is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in young women.
- Between 5-20% people struggling with anorexia nervosa will die.
- Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental health condition.
- The desease typically appears in early to mid-adolescence is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
Read also our article “Purging to Perfection”.
How Anorexia Nervosa Affects the Body
Anorexia puts a great deal of strain on the cardiovascular system, particularly the heart. It can slow the heart rate to dangerous levels. Anorexic individuals also tend to have an electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to muscle pain and permanent muscle damage, compromised immunities, and low phosphate levels, which can cause heart failure.
For younger sufferers, Anorexia can stunt growth of the body permanently and cause decreased amounts of hormones that are required for physical and sexual development. Furthermore, due to poor nutrition and lack of nutrition associated with anorexia nervosa, osteoporosis can affect as much as 50% of those suffering from the condition.
The Causes of Anorexia
There are several psychological, emotional, physiological, and even social factors that can trigger anorexia in an individual. Some of these factors include:
- Body image distortion
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Clinical depression
- Poor personal and family relationships
- Gender (the condition is more common in females)
- Ethnicity (the condition is more common in white individuals)
- Exposure to Western media
Symptoms to look for
There are a number of symptoms and warning signs to look for if you think that someone you know is suffering from anorexia nervosa. These can include:
- Obsessive thoughts about food and body weight
- Pre-occupation with body size and shape
- Fear about becoming overweight
- Withdrawal from relationships
- Reduced immune function
- Pale complexion and sunken eyes
- Hypothermia, anemia, slow heart rate (consistent with starvation)
- Chapped lips
- Poor circulation – hands and feet are purple
- Secretive behavior
- Excessive exercise
- Severe reduction in eating
Anorexia nervosa is hard to treat, with many patients resisting treatment. Only about 50% of those with the condition ever fully recover from it. Treatment usually involves hospitalization or outpatient treatment to increase weight safely, psychotherapy, and drug treatment (for depression). There are many non-profit groups who offer support to those who are suffering from anorexia, and for those who have a loved one afflicted with the condition. Treatment takes time, support, and understanding, but anorexia can be overcome.