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Definition

Anorexia nervosa or anorexia is a complex eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, irrational fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body weight altogether.

Anorexia is an obsessive condition where people take extreme to control their body weight so much so, that it begins to interfere with important aspects of their lives. These measures may include strictly restricting their food intake, reducing their calorie intake or by misusing diuretics, laxatives diet aids or enemas.

Often, anorexia is looked at an unhealthy way to cope with emotional problems, rather than the problem lying in eating itself.

Symptoms

Since anorexia is looked at more of a mental disorder, symptoms are both physical as well as emotional and behavioural.

Physical Symptoms

  • Weight loss of extreme nature
  • Thin appearance
  • Abnormal blood counts
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Bluish discoloration of the fingers
  • Thinning hair
  • Downy hair covering the body
  • Missing a period
  • Constipation
  • Dry or yellowish skin
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Swelling of arms or legs
  • Osteoporosis

Emotional or Behavioural Symptoms

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Refusal to eat
  • Denial of hunger
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Lying about how much food has been eaten
  • Flat mood (lack of emotion)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Irritability
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Depression
  • Suicidal tendencies

Risk Factors

You are very likely to develop anorexia if you:

  • Are a female
  • Are of a young age
  • Have a history of anorexia in the family
  • Think you’re putting on weight
  • Transition in terms of school, homes and neighbourhood
  • Occupational hazards

Diagnosis

If your doctor thinks you may be suffering from anorexia, he/she will run a number of tests and exams to confirm the prognosis and rule out any other possibilities that may cause excessive weight loss. These tests and scans may include:

Physical Exam

In a physical exam, the doctor might check your vital signs and measure your height and weight.

Lab Tests

Lab tests may include a complete blood count (CBC) and specialized blood tests to check electrolytes and functions of organs such as the liver and kidney.

Other tests may include a full psychological evaluation, X-Ray, bone density tests, etc.

Treatment

Treatment for anorexia may range for hospitalization for medical complications such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance or psychiatric emergencies.

Having family members around who can help restore confidence and ensure the patient gets back to a healthy weight can be very helpful.

Psychotherapy is another way of treating anorexia as it will address the emotional and behavioural problems that one may be facing.

Alternative treatment such as yoga, meditation, massage may also help.

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