Anorexia is an eating disorder. It occurs when a person's obsession with diet and exercise leads to extreme weight loss. The disorder is considered if a person refuses to maintain a body weight at or above 85% of their ideal body weight. It can be fatal.
The cause of anorexia is not known. It appears that genetics and environment play a role.
Factors that increase your risk for anorexia include:
Symptoms may include:
Anorexia often leads to a number of serious medical problems including:
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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. There will also be psychological tests.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Your heart's activity may be tested. This can be done with an electrocardiogram.
Your bones may be evaluated. This can be done with a bone density test.
The goal of treatment is to get you return you to a healthy weight and to help you maintain that weight. A healthy weight is above 85% of your ideal weight. To achieve this, your intake of calories is gradually increased. This can be accomplished through a number of interventions, including the following:
A dietician may be consulted to help you learn more about the components of a healthy diet. The dietician will also talk to you about reasonable weight goals and calorie goals.
Therapy can help address harmful thought patterns, improve eating behavior, and increase self-esteem. There are many different types of therapy. Work with your doctor and therapists to determine which therapy may be best for you. You may use more than one therapy or try different therapies before you find one that works best for you. Some therapy options include:
In some cases, anorexic patients benefit from a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. In particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used. Used alone, antidepressant therapy is not an effective treatment for anorexia.
Medications and supplements may include:
Hospitalization may be necessary if:
If you are diagnosed with anorexia, follow your doctor's instructions.
There are no guidelines to prevent anorexia. Early detection and treatment is the best option.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
National Eating Disorder Information Center
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed . Updated February 20, 2013. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Anorexia nervosa fact sheet. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://womenshealt... . Updated July 16, 2012. Accessed July 22, 2013.
Casper RC. How useful are pharmacological treatments in eating disorders? Psychopharmacol Bulletin . 2002;36:88-104.
Last reviewed July 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 5/11/2013