Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by severe weight loss and altered self-image that leads sufferers to believe that they are fat even when they are, in fact,dangerously underweight.
CAUSES AND INCIDENCE
The causes of anorexia are unclear, but the condition may be linked to a lack of self-worth that leads to excessive
concern over physical appearance. Sufferers may feel that they can have some control over their lives by controlling
their eating. Normal dieting may develop into starvation. Anorexia nervosa most commonly affects teenage girls and young women, but the incidence in young men is rising.
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS
In the early stages, sufferers may be overactive and may exercise excessively. They are obsessed with food, and often
make complicated meals for others, but are reluctant to eat socially and avoid eating the meals themselves. As their
weight loss continues, they become tired and weak, the skin becomes dry, lanugo hair (fine, downy hair) grows
on the body, and normal hair becomes thinner. Starvation leads to amenorrhoea (the absence of menstrual periods) in
many women. Some sufferers of anorexia nervosa have food binges and then make them-selves vomit, or take laxative drugs or diuretic drugs, to promote weight loss (see bulimia). Chemical imbalances as a result of starvation, with or without vomiting, can cause potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias
TREATMENT AND OUTLOOK
Hospital treatment is often necessary and is usually based on a closely controlled feeding programme combined
with psychotherapyor family therapy. For some people, antidepressant drugs may be helpful. Many sufferers relapse after treatment, and long-term psychotherapy is required.