Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the uncontrollable fear of gaining weight. It is a mental illness with varied causes and very serious medical consequences.
What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that manifests as a refusal to eat and the obsessive need to lose weight. This is one of the most common eating disorders alongside bulimia and binge eating. This condition affects 1 to 2% of the population and mainly girls from 14 to 20 years old.
Anorexia nervosa is often wrongly abbreviated to anorexia. Indeed, the term anorexia refers only to a symptom corresponding to the loss of appetite found in many pathologies. Anorexia nervosa is, as its name suggests, a complex mental illness that involves a psychological disturbance of body image and the uncontrollable fear of gaining weight.
Symptoms And Signs Of Anorexia Nervosa
It often takes time to be able to identify the symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Indeed, the patient will go through a phase of refusal and will strive to deny and hide. The characteristic signs of anorexia nervosa are:
- The refusal to maintain a normal weight: This results in a significant weight loss with a BMI (body mass index) less than 18.
- The obsessive fear of gaining weight: Any taking of weight then triggers anger and anxiety. Weighing is extremely frequent.
- The alteration of the self-perception (dysmorphophobia): Even if they are thin, the anorexic person is convinced they are fat. They may spend a lot of time looking at themself in the mirror.
- Absence of menstruation: In women, amenorrhea may appear. This is the disappearance of periods for at least three cycles.
There are two forms of anorexia nervosa. Restrictive anorexia associates a strict diet with hyperactivity and too much physical exercise. Anorexia bulimia is characterized by voluntary vomiting and the taking of purgatives.
Causes Of Anorexia Nervosa
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa do not depend on a determinant cause, but on multiple genetic and psychological factors. Personal events such as family troubles (bereavement, divorce ...) or social problems (feeling of rejection, isolation) play a determining role in the onset of the disease. Research has also identified genes associated with behaviours that are found in anorexic people such as depression or compulsion. However, they could not reveal any gene clearly specific to anorexia nervosa.
Consequences Of Anorexia Nervosa
The consequences of anorexia are not limited to weight loss. Malnutrition can cause serious physical problems. Indeed, the anorexic person is likely to have many deficiencies in vitamins, proteins or fatty acids. This can cause metabolic disorders of cholesterol, neurological disturbances, cardiovascular damage, kidney problems, hair loss and dizziness. Problems with osteoporosis are also common leading to decalcification, bone fractures and in some cases damage or loss of teeth.
Many psychological consequences are also observed in patients, such as depression, a drop in libido, a bad temper and difficulty concentrating. Socially, this often results in isolation and withdrawal from family and friends.
Treatment Of Anorexia Nervosa
For treatment of anorexia nervosa to be effective, the patient's close friends and family need to be aware of their treatment plan and help them adhere to it. This includes psychotherapy, psychological and somatic follow-up as well as the establishment of a nutritional regime whose primary objective will be a normalization of weight. Drug treatment can also be used as a complement to fight against behavioural disorders. Antidepressants such as fluoxetine and anxiolytics may be prescribed. Relapses are common during the course of anorexia nervosa so it is important for patients and the people surrounding them to be vigilant.