Anorexia is an eating disorder. People who have it are obsessed with losing more weight than needed. They may do this through methods like like excess physical activity or forced vomiting.
The cause is not known. It appears to be a mix of genes and the environment.
This problem is more common in young women. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of helplessness
- Wanting to be perfect
- Fear of gaining weight
- Pressure to be thin
- Having other family members with this problem
Having other mental health problems, such as
- A way of life that highlights being thin as ideal
Physical symptoms may include:
- Losing too much weight
- Hair loss or growth of fine hair on the body
- Yellow or dry skin
- Loss of monthly periods in women
- Fainting or light-headedness
- Problems passing stool
- Rapid heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
Mental and behavioral issues may include:
- An obsession with food and how much fat and calories are in it
- Dieting even when thin
- A fear of gaining weight even when a person is underweight
- Seeing oneself as overweight when one is not
- Excess exercising
- Being secretive about food
- Mood swings
- Lack of interest in sex
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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.
A mental health exam may also be done. Other tests may be:
- Blood tests
to check heart function
- Bone density tests
The goal is to return to and stay at a healthy weight. Choices are:
- Nutrition counseling
Counseling, such as
cognitive behavioral therapy
(CBT) and family therapy
Medicines, such as:
- Antidepressants to balance chemicals in the brain
- Vitamins and minerals to boost nutrition
- Hormone replacement
therapy for women
There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed November 17, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed November 17, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa. Accessed November 17, 2020.
Zipfel S, Giel KE, et al. Anorexia nervosa: aetiology, assessment, and treatment. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015 Dec;2(12):1099-1111.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 04/21/2021