Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. Persons with this disorder may have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are underweight. They may diet or exercise too much, or use other methods to lose weight.
The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are not known. Many factors probably are involved. Genes and hormones may play a role. Social attitudes that promote very thin body types may also be involved.
Family conflicts are no longer thought to contribute to this or other eating disorders.
Risk factors for anorexia include:
- Being more worried about, or paying more attention to, weight and shape
- Having an anxiety disorder as a child
- Having a negative self-image
- Having eating problems during infancy or early childhood
- Having certain social or cultural ideas about health and beauty
- Trying to be perfect or overly focused on rules
Anorexia usually begins during the teen years or young adulthood. It is more common in females, but may also be seen in males. The disorder is seen mainly in white women who are high academic achievers and who have a goal-oriented family or personality.
To be diagnosed with anorexia, a person must:
- Have an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even when she is underweight
- Refuse to keep weight at what is considered normal for her age and height (15% or more below the normal weight)
- Have a body image that is very distorted, be very focused on body weight or shape, and refuse to admit the seriousness of weight loss
- Have not had a period for three or more cycles (in women)
People with anorexia may severely limit the amount of food they eat, or eat and then make themselves throw up. Other behaviors include:
- Cutting food into small pieces or moving them around the plate instead of eating
- Exercising all the time, even when the weather is bad, they are hurt, or their schedule is busy
- Going to the bathroom right after meals
- Refusing to eat around other people
- Using pills to make themselves urinate (water pills or diuretics), have a bowel movement (enemas and laxatives), or decrease their appetite (diet pills)
Other symptoms of anorexia may include:
- Blotchy or yellow skin that is dry and covered with fine hair
- Confused or slow thinking, along with poor memory or judgment
- Dry mouth
- Extreme sensitivity to cold (wearing several layers of clothing to stay warm)
- Loss of bone strength
- Wasting away of muscle and loss of body fat