Symptoms and Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/12/2021

Doctor's Notes on Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder (eating too little to maintain health). Signs and symptoms may include an intense fear of weight gain (the person believes they are overweight even if they are normal or underweight), under eating, or practicing extreme dieting and/or exercise, vomiting (sometimes self-induced), laxative abuse, diuretic abuse, and sometimes using appetite-suppressant drugs. Other signs and symptoms include depression, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, absent or irregular periods, delayed puberty, tooth decay, kidney stones, brittle nails, low blood pressure or slow heart rate, hair thinning, dryness of skin, hair and yellowish color, cold sensitivity, easy bruising, and premature aging. Some may develop hand injuries and cheek puffiness from trying to induce vomiting.

The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unclear but psychological, genetic, biological, developmental, and social factors may predispose some individuals to develop this disease.

What Are the Treatments of Anorexia Nervosa?

Treatments vary according to the severity of the disease. People with severe life-threatening disease need hospital care and treatment for underlying problems (heart rhythm problems, dehydration, for example). Some doctors suggest restoring a patient to a healthy weight with input from a primary care doctor, family, a dietitian, and a psychologist. Psychotherapy, family, or individual therapy is recommended. There is no FDA-approved medication for anorexia. However, if you have depression or anxiety, psychiatric medications may help.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.