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Anorexia Nervosa

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental-health illness. People with this disorder have a severe preoccupation with food and body image. They don't eat, diet excessively, or otherwise eat far too little to maintain health. Despite being underweight, they often have anxiety concerning the belief that they are overweight and continue to try to lose weight. While the condition is more common in girls and women compared to boys and men, it is now believed to affect more boys and men than previously thought. Statistics indicate that anorexia most often starts between 13-30 years of age. How many children and adolescents are afflicted with an eating disorder have steadily increased in the United States since the 1950s. The long-term effects and medical complications generated by this psychiatric illness can be severe and even fatal.

Bulimia nervosa is another eating disorder that involves a preoccupation with food and body image. Symptoms of people with bulimia tend to be that they are of normal weight, binge eat within a discrete period of time, and have trouble controlling the urge to binge. They then try to make up for (undo) the binge in a negative way, by behaviors like self-induced vomiting, misuse of medications, fasting, or exercising excessively.

As opposed to anorexia, the definition of binge eating disorder is recurring episodes of eating unusually excessive amounts of food, along with a sense of feeling out of control, at least weekly over three or more months. It may also involve strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt. Binge eating disorder is much less common than pure overeating and is often associated with many more physical and mental-health problems.

What Are Risk Factors and Causes of Anorexia Nervosa?

There are several psychological, genetic, biological, developmental, and social factors that may predispose people to developing this condition. Anorexia nervosa may be encouraged because of our society's emphasis on (sometimes even extreme) weight loss and thinness, especially for women.

  • Genetic vulnerabilities for developing anorexia nervosa may occur.
  • Some evidence suggests differences in the pattern of brain chemicals in those who get anorexia.
  • A history of feeding problems as an infant, a tendency toward under-eating, or having a mother who has depression seem to be risk factors for developing anorexia.
  • Anorexia is more common among teenage boys or girls and women who participate in gymnastics, wrestling, ballet, modeling, or horse jockeying, in which being thin is thought to be a benefit.
  • While Caucasian women in the United States are more often assessed as having anorexia, the ethnic gap in the frequency of developing anorexia seems to be lessening.
  • Having high self-esteem and a mother with a higher body mass index (BMI) appear to be associated with the prevention of anorexia.
  • People who suffer from the distractibility, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are vulnerable to developing anorexia and other eating disorders.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2017

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Anorexia Treatment


Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications affect the levels of serotonin in the brain. For many people, these medications are the first choice to treat depression. Examples of these medications are:

  • fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem),
  • sertraline (Zoloft),
  • paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR),
  • escitalopram (Lexapro),
  • fluvoxamine, and
  • citalopram (Celexa).

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Anorexia Nervosa »

Richard Morton first described anorexia nervosa more than 300 years ago, in 1689, as a condition of "a Nervous Consumption" caused by "sadness, and anxious Cares."

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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