Diseases

Anorexia – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder caused by mental disorders. Typical of anorexia is radical weight loss due to poor nutrition. In addition, those affected (mostly young girls going through puberty) suffer from disturbed self-perception and fear of becoming overweight or even fat.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a pathological eating disorder that is also referred to in medical jargon as anorexia nervosa . This condition often affects young women and girls. Significant weight loss is characteristic of anorexia , and the affected patients are usually terrified of gaining weight again .

If the body weight is more than 15 percent below the normal weight, one generally speaks of anorexia. Anorexia is a serious condition that can even be fatal in about 10 to 15 percent of cases. This is usually the case if the disease is not treated in a timely manner.

After all, around 1.5 percent of women between the ages of 14 and 35 are affected by anorexia. The proportion of under 20-year-olds is enormously high; this disease usually develops during puberty . In principle, women are more frequently affected by this symptom, but in individual cases men can also suffer from anorexia.

causes

In most cases, family conflicts and problems trigger anorexia . Those who are mentally unstable are more likely to suffer from anorexia. Genetic predisposition also plays a major role. While this is not well researched, some people seem to be more susceptible to this disease than others.

A disorder in the brain region responsible for eating behavior and the menstrual cycle can also be a cause of anorexia nervosa. Of course, society also plays a very important role. Today’s ideal of beauty is primarily defined by slim bodies; especially pubescent young people submit to this quickly. Girls who suffer from low self-esteem are significantly more likely to develop this disease.

In summary, one can say that several factors usually interact that lead to the onset of anorexia.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The most noticeable sign of anorexia is a strong weight loss that goes far beyond a healthy level. Even if they are significantly underweight, anorexics still perceive themselves as too fat – doctors speak of a body schema disorder. Objectively, anorexia can be considered from a body mass index (BMI) of less than 17.5 m/kg², but this limit value must be calculated more differentiated for children and adolescents.

If the weight loss continues, the body breaks down both fat reserves and muscle mass. This stage of the disease is externally visible through strongly protruding bones, deep-set eyes and hollow cheeks, in many cases there is a clear physical weakness.

In addition to weight loss, changes in eating habits can also indicate anorexia. Sufferers limit their meals to a minimum, avoid nutrient-dense foods, and count every calorie they eat. Excessive sport is often practiced to reduce weight, and some anorexics take laxatives or water tablets to support them. Thinking only revolves around body weight, every slightest increase in weight triggers dissatisfaction.

Severe underweight impairs many bodily functions and can cause numerous complaints such as dizziness and weakness attacks, constant freezing, constipation and cardiac arrhythmia . Difficulty concentrating , anxiety , mood swings , and social withdrawal coupled with severe weight loss may also indicate anorexia.

course of the disease

Anorexia is accompanied by numerous symptoms. Of course, the weight loss is clearly visible; this can progress to the point where it can become life-threatening. Due to the poor nutrition, vital nutrients are of course missing. The so-called body schema disorder is also characteristic. Affected patients generally consider themselves too fat and perceive their bodies differently than outsiders.

The disease can be divided into two groups: around half of the patients only follow a diet, while the other 50 percent also have symptoms of binge eating ( bulimia ). Although these patients eat a lot, they break it down again. Some patients also take laxatives to avoid weight gain. They are also often excessively sporty.

Of course, anorexia also leads to hormonal changes in the body; menstruation often stops . A desire to have children often remains unfulfilled for anorexics. Basically, the earlier anorexia is detected, the better the chances of recovery.

The complications of anorexia nervosa are diverse and occur more frequently as the condition progresses. Up to 15 percent of all those affected die as a result of malnutrition – mainly heart failure – or commit suicide.

complications

Physical complications include any condition that occurs due to malnutrition. These include, for example, slowed heart activity, which increases the risk of circulatory collapse, kidney failure due to potassium and protein deficiencies, and osteoporosis. The physical weakness combined with a vulnerable circulatory system can lead to falls resulting in permanent fractures and adhesions due to the weakened bones.

Blood formation and composition is disturbed, which promotes further organ damage as a result of an undersupply of nutrients and oxygen. The weakened immune system increases susceptibility to infections, which are usually easy to fight off. Even mild pneumonia or an intestinal infection can mean death.

The decrease in brain mass leads to problems with memory and coordination. This is only partially reversible. The poor psychological state of many of those affected is also expressed in self-injurious behavior.

Even a phase of anorexia that has been treated and survived usually leaves behind consequential damage, which means a lifelong increased risk of further diseases for those affected. Osteoporosis and renal insufficiency usually remain for life.

When should you go to the doctor?

People whose body weight is too low according to the BMI guidelines should see a doctor. If food intake is vehemently refused or greatly reduced for several days or weeks, a doctor is needed. Deficiency symptoms, hair loss or brittle nails indicate health problems. In the case of internal dryness, exhaustion or fatigue, a doctor’s visit is necessary. If girls or women do not have a menstrual period, they need to see a doctor for a check-up.

If the life of the affected person is determined by food intake, weight and external appearance, medical help should be sought. In case of rejection of one’s own body, a body schema disorder or compulsive behavior, a doctor should be consulted. If professional or school performance can no longer be achieved, if the person concerned withdraws from the social environment and loses strength, a visit to the doctor is advisable.

A doctor or therapist should be consulted in the case of psychological abnormalities, irritability and changes in personality. If the food intake and excretions are documented and controlled precisely, there is a problem that needs to be clarified by a doctor. Since anorexia can be fatal or trigger other serious complications, a doctor’s support is necessary in good time.

Treatment & Therapy

In the case of anorexia , it is primarily important to fight against being underweight , as this naturally affects all internal organs. Nutritional therapy measures should continue to help patients to fundamentally change their eating habits and learn to eat “correctly” again.

In addition, psychotherapeutic measures are necessary, since the patient’s attitude towards eating is of course fundamentally disturbed. Family therapies have proven to be particularly effective in young people. However, since those affected often refuse to eat, it is not uncommon for this to be administered via infusions.

With the right therapeutic treatment and the willingness of the patient, there are good chances of curing anorexia. What is important is the will and the desire of those affected to fight the disease. If there is uncertainty or the desire to continue to maintain a very low body weight despite therapy, the chances of recovery deteriorate. A risk of relapse is therefore more likely.

aftercare

After completing therapy, it makes sense to continue to strengthen your personal resources. Self-esteem often plays a key role in eating disorders. The disease often leads to social isolation. At the latest during aftercare, it is time to rediscover old acquaintances and strengthen contact with friends and family members.

In this context, people who have recently suffered from an eating disorder also have to deal with the question of how open they want to be about their medical history. Since eating disorders often develop in adolescence, many of those affected first have to relearn how to get along at school or in professional life during aftercare. Applications or returning to your old job can also be a challenge for adults.

Follow-up care includes behavior in everyday life. This also includes shopping, cooking and everyday housework. Fixed structures can help to maintain healthy behavior patterns that have been developed. Psychological aftercare consists to a large extent of relapse prevention. In addition to the eating disorder, there may be other psychological problems that also need to be treated.

Outlook & Forecast

When curing anorexia, it must also be differentiated whether a complete cure is to be aimed for, or whether the absence of symptoms is sufficient. The latter is usually easier for patients to achieve because certain behaviors can be maintained.

In addition to psychological stabilization, physical recovery is also important. The longer the disease has lasted and the more severe its course, the more likely it is that long-term consequences and irreversible damage will occur. For example , osteoporosis caused by anorexia will persist even after a stable condition has been reached.

In principle, those affected should be aware that the healing phase can last a long time, sometimes even several years. Without treatment, anorexia can become chronic and complicate subsequent healing considerably. In addition, the risk of long-term consequences and acute symptoms, such as cardiac arrest, increases. Overall, however, it can be said that a complete cure for anorexia is basically possible.

You can do that yourself

Anorexia is a very serious disease that can lead to death. The problem must be treated professionally. Those affected are usually only able to help themselves during the early phase or in less severe cases. If the course is severe, the victims are usually no longer able or unwilling to recognize that they are ill and need help.Young girls and women are particularly affected by the disease. Parents should therefore observe their children’s eating behavior critically. However, not every diet attempt is a pathological disorder that needs to be treated. However, when children begin to lose weight consistently , show no interest in food intake, or even make excuses to avoid eating situations, countermeasures should be taken. Parents can get help from counseling centers.

Those affected who are aware of their disorder and want healing should definitely consult a doctor and a psychologist . In addition, there are also a few tricks that make it easier to fight the disease. The perceptual relationship is very often disturbed as far as food is concerned. Small portions are then perceived as huge. For this reason, the food should always be served on very large plates in order to put this distortion into perspective. It is also often easier for those affected to consume calories in liquid form. Green smoothies enriched with ground almonds or pine nuts are a healthy source of energy in these cases.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.