What is anorexia nervosa? — Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people want to weigh less than is healthy.
What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa? — People with anorexia nervosa:
Weigh much less than they should for their age and height – To lose weight, people eat too little, exercise too much, or do other things, such as make themselves vomit.
Are very worried about gaining weight – To avoid gaining weight, they will not eat, even when they are hungry.
See their body and shape in an abnormal way – For example, they:
•Think they are fat, even when they are underweight
•Don't understand that their low body weight can cause serious medical problems
•Feel good about themselves when they lose weight and bad when they gain weight
It is also common for people with anorexia nervosa to:
Spend a lot of time thinking about food, meals, and calories
Create rules around food and eating
Skip meals and avoid eating in public
Anorexia nervosa is more common in women than men. It usually begins in the teenage or early adult years.
People with anorexia nervosa often hide how thin they are or deny that they have a problem. They often don't want treatment, because they don't want to gain weight. But it's important for people to get treatment, because people can get seriously ill and die from anorexia nervosa.
Is there a test for anorexia nervosa? — No. There is no test. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have it by talking with you, measuring your height and weight, and doing an exam.
Your doctor or nurse will do tests to check your health, because anorexia nervosa can lead to many health problems. You will probably have:
An ECG – An ECG measures the electrical activity in your heart and records your heart rate and rhythm (figure 1).
What problems can anorexia nervosa cause? — Anorexia nervosa can cause many problems. That's because the body and brain don't get the nutrition they need. Anorexia nervosa can cause:
Problems with the brain, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and glands
Bone loss and muscle weakness
Bloating and trouble having bowel movements
Thinning hair and nails that break easily
Feeling cold all the time or tired a lot
People with anorexia nervosa can also have:
Depression – This is when people feel very sad, empty, or hopeless most of the time, or do not enjoy the things that usually make them happy. In addition, people can have trouble with their sleep, appetite, energy, memory, or concentration. Some depressed people think about hurting themselves. If you are thinking of hurting yourself, call your doctor or nurse right away or go to the hospital.
Anxiety – This is when people worry a lot or think about certain things over and over.
Alcohol or drug abuse
Problems with memory, thinking, or paying attention
How is anorexia nervosa treated? — Treatment for anorexia nervosa involves:
Gaining weight – You will work with your doctor and a dietitian (food expert) to gain weight. The dietitian will make meal plans that can help you gain weight safely and slowly. The doctor will follow your weight and health closely.
Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy involves meeting with a therapist to talk about your feelings, thoughts, and life. Different kinds of psychotherapy can be helpful, including:
•Working one-on-one with a therapist
•Family therapy – Your family can work with a therapist.
•Group therapy – You can join a group for people with eating disorders.
Medicines are not usually used to treat anorexia nervosa, except in certain cases when the above treatments alone don't help.
Some people can be treated at home, but others need to be treated in the hospital. It depends on the person's weight, symptoms, and health problems. Treatment for anorexia nervosa can be hard work, and it can take a long time. A complete recovery can take years.
What happens after treatment? — Many people get better with treatment. But people with anorexia nervosa often "relapse." This is when their symptoms return and they lose weight again.
To help prevent a relapse, you can follow your treatment plan and keep seeing your therapist. If you start to have symptoms again, let your family or doctor know as soon as possible so that you can get help.
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This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 16565 Version 7.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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