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Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa

February 9, 2024
Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a complex and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. It is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight.

Individuals with this condition often experience a distorted body image. They perceived themselves as overweight despite having a significantly low body weight.

The disorder manifests through unconventional eating habits. These serve as their coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem. 

What causes anorexia nervosa?

The cause of anorexia is unknown. However, it often starts with regular dieting. Over time, it can lead to unhealthy weight loss. Fear of becoming overweight may drive extreme dieting and food restriction techniques. 

Genetic factors can also play a role. Individuals having a family history of eating disorders are at a higher risk. Additionally, the following can contribute to the development of this condition:

·      societal pressures

·      cultural ideals

·      exposure to images promoting unrealistic body standards 

What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia symptoms often include the following:

·      Rapid weight loss over weeks or months.

·      Significant emphasis on food, nutrition, calories, or cooking.

·      Dieting/limited eating even when skinny or when weight is really low.

·      Preparing meals for others without eating.

·      Extreme dread of acquiring weight.

·      Striving for perfection and being extremely self-critical

·      Avoiding mealtimes.

·      Food rituals include rearranging food on a plate or eating in secret.

·      Rejecting emotions of hunger.

·      Feeling big, yet being underweight.

·      Limiting meals depending on their types.

·      Inability to accurately assess one’s body weight.

·      Depression, anxiety, and irritability.

·      Unreasonable impact of body weight or shape on self-esteem

·      Compulsive exercise

·      Social withdrawal

·      Infrequent, irregular, or even skipped menstrual cycles.

·      Frequent sickness.

·      Feeling unworthy or forlorn

·      Exercise while ill or wounded

·      Taking laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills

Physical symptoms that develop over time, including: 

·      Low tolerance to cold conditions or feeling uncomfortable

·      Dry or yellowed skin

·      Brittle hair and nails.

·      Anemia

·      Swollen joints

·      Constipation 

·      Tooth decay

·      Dizziness or fainting

·      Stomach discomfort or cramps

Complications of anorexia nervosa

Anorexia can be very serious and even life-threatening. Sudden death may occur, even in those who are not severely underweight due to:

·      Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)

·      An imbalance of electrolytes and essential minerals like sodium, calcium, and potassium.

Additional complications are:

·      Anemia

·      Osteoporosis

·      An increase in the risk of fractures

·      Other heart problems

·      Loss of muscle

·      In males, decreased testosterone

·      In females, the absence of a period

·      GI problems like bloating, constipation, or nausea

·      Kidney problems

·      Electrolyte abnormalities

Being severely malnourished can harm every organ in the body, including the following:

·      Brain

·      Heart

·      Kidneys

This damage might not completely heal, even if the anorexia is managed.

Apart from the physical issues, they often experience other mental health conditions like:

·      Depression

·      Mood disorders

·      Anxiety

·      Personality disorders

·      Problems related to alcohol or substance misuse.

·      Obsessive-compulsive disorders

Additionally, suicidal thoughts, self-injury, or suicide attempts may be present.

Treatment Approaches

1.  Medical Stabilization

Initial treatment often involves medical stabilization to address the physical consequences of malnutrition. This may include hospitalization to restore a healthy weight and address nutritional deficiencies.

2.  Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular is a cornerstone of anorexia treatment. Therapists work with individuals to:

·      challenge distorted thoughts

·      develop healthier coping mechanisms

·      address underlying psychological issues

3.  Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

This is especially useful for adolescents. FBT engages the entire family in the treatment process. It empowers parents to have an active role in their child’s recovery. Parents also discuss meal planning and maintaining a positive home atmosphere.

4.  Medication

Antidepressants or other psychiatric medications are prescribed to address co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety.

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