Anorexia nervosa is the inability to keep body weight within 15 percent of a person's ideal body weight or higher, but in reality the disease is more complex than that. Typical signs of anorexia include a severely distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, often coupled with very little eating. Many with anorexia nervosa are in denial about the seriousness of the disorder. As both an eating disorder and a mental illness, anorexia nervosa is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition for those who have it.
Who Is Susceptible
Anorexia is most common among adolescent girls and young women, though it can affect both genders and all ages, as well. There seems to be a strong genetic component to anorexia: If someone in your family has it, you have a 10 times greater likelihood of developing it yourself. Outside stressors and social influences, as well as chemical factors in the brain and body, also play a role in your chances of developing anorexia.
Symptoms of Anorexia
Symptoms of anorexia typically start with the mental issue of distorted body image: Even if they're a healthy weight, people with anorexia see themselves as overweight or even obese. This attitude leads to severe caloric restrictions and sometimes intense exercise to further help with weight loss.
As the situation continues, the result can be more serious physical symptoms developing. Women will stop menstruating. Hair and nails become brittle, the skin becomes dry and yellow and the body is always cold. Extreme lethargy and weakness will follow because of the lack of nutrition. In extreme instances, the severe malnutrition can lead to damage to vital organs and even death.
The good news is that anorexia is highly treatable, and most symptoms are reversible with proper nutrition. Treatment for anorexia typically includes behavioral therapy, group therapy and, in some instances, medication to treat related factors like anxiety and depression. In more severe cases, hospitalization and feeding tube treatments may be needed to return someone to better health before starting other treatments.
SOURCES: National Alliance on Mental Illness; National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders