(Anorexia Nervosa—Adult)


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.

Risk Factors

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
  • Stress
  • Having other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety
  • 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

Body Dysmorphia

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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
  • ECG 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.


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: Accessed November 17, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed November 17, 2020.
Anorexia nervosa. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: 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

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