What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa (AN), a form of self-starvation, is an eating disorder characterized by low body weight (less than 85 percent of normal weight for height and age), a distorted body image, amenorrhea (absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles when otherwise expected to occur in women), and an intense fear of gaining weight. Anorexia nervosa is sometimes referred to as anorexia.
What causes Anorexia Nervosa?
The cause of anorexia nervosa is not known. Anorexia usually begins as innocent dieting behavior, but gradually progresses to extreme and unhealthy weight loss. Social attitudes toward body appearance, family influences, genetics, and neurochemical and developmental factors are considered possible contributors to the cause of anorexia. Adolescents who develop anorexia are more likely to come from families with a history of weight problems, physical illness, and other mental health problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Further, often teens with the disorder come from families that are challenged by appropriate problem solving, being too rigid, overly-critical, intrusive, and overprotective. Teens may also be dependent, immature in their emotional development, and are likely to isolate themselves from others. Other mental health problems such as anxiety disorders or affective disorders are commonly found in teens with anorexia.
What are the different types of Anorexia?
There are two subgroups of anorexic behavior aimed at reducing caloric intake,
including the following:
- Restrictor Type - severely limits the intake of food, especially carbohydrates and fat containing foods.
- Bulimia (also called binge-eating/purging type) - eats in binges and then induces vomiting and/or takes large amounts of laxatives or other cathartics (medications, through their chemical effects, that serve to increase the clearing of intestinal contents).
What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?
The following are the most common symptoms of anorexia. However, each child may experience signs differently.
Symptoms may include:
- Low body weight (less than 85 percent of normal weight for height and age)
- Intense fear of becoming obese, even as individual is losing weight
- Distorted view of one's body weight, size, or shape; sees self as too fat, even when very underweight; expresses feeling fat, even when very thin
- Refuses to maintain minimum normal body weight
- In females, absence of three menstrual cycles without another cause
- Excessive physical activity in order to promote weight loss
- Denies feelings of hunger
- Preoccupation with food preparation
- Bizarre eating behaviors
The following are the most common physical symptoms associated with anorexia - often that result from starvation and malnourishment. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.
Symptoms may include:
- Dry skin that when pinched and released, stays pinched
- Abdominal pain
- Intolerance to cold temperatures
- Development of lanugo (fine, downy body hair)
- Yellowing of the skin
Persons with anorexia may also be socially withdrawn, irritable, moody, and/or depressed. The symptoms of anorexia nervosa may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Treatment for anorexia nervosa:
Specific treatment for anorexia nervosa will be determined by your child's physician based on:
- Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of your child's symptoms
- Your child's tolerance for specific medications or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Anorexia is usually treated with a combination of individual therapy, family therapy, behavior modification, and nutritional rehabilitation. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family.
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