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Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder, in which people more or less starve themselves. These people are also extremely skinny. They have a distorted image of their own body, a great fear of being fat and do not try to persue a normal body weight. Anorexia nervosa can have serious physical consequences and even cause death.
The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is not known, but there are some risk factors:
- Personality traits, like perfectionism and low self-esteem.
- Premature birth.
- Physical disorders.
- Negative experiences, such as assault, neglect or sexual abuse in childhood.
Anorexia nervosa can have physical consequences and can cause problems on emotional and social level. The physical signs and symptoms are:
- Low body temperature.
- Problems with heart and blood vessels.
- Gastrointestinal problems.
- Hormonal defects which, for instance, cause the menstruation to fail.
- Reduced function of the thyroid.
- Decreased metabolism.
- Skin problems.
The social and emotional consequences are:
- Flattening of emotions.
- Risk of getting into social isolation.
- Quarrels with parents or partner.
- Lost interest in sex.
- Obstacles to successful education and career.
- Permanent incapacitation.
- Anorexia can eventually even lead to death.
Anorexia nervosa is usually determined on the basis of severe weight loss and the characteristic psychological symptoms. The average anorexia patient is usually a girl in adolescence, who has lost at least fifteen percent of her body weight, is afraid of overweight, is not menstruating anymore, denies that she is sick and seems to be otherwise healthy.
The treatment of the disease is difficult and long-lasting. Various forms of psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment are used and, in case of severe malnutrition, also intravenous administration of nutrition. Anorexia can be treated in several ways:
- Treatment aimed at diet and weight. This treatment has the purpose to obtain a healthy weight and to retain it by accepting the body image as well. Furthermore, attempts are made to give the patient a healthy and normal diet.
- Treatment with psychotherapy. Depending on the situation, this therapy can be focussed on motivation for change, change disturbed eating behaviour, avoid purge behavior, weight recovery, body experience and self-esteem.
- Drug therapy. There are no medicines that can cure a person from anorexia. Drugs will therefore only be used to support therapies and other treatments and for treatment of any additional diseases.
- Specific treatments such as psychoeducation, increasing motivation and self-help.
Even with treatment it can take weeks or even many months before any improvement can be seen. And it can take many years before people with anorexia are completely cured. However, many people continue to have problems with eating, even after the treatment, but they are more in control and able to lead a happier and qualitative better life.
Some people with anorexia nervosa unfortunately die from the disease. Causes of death include infections, dehydration, blood chemical imbalances (such as low potassium levels) and also suicide.
- There are no good or bad foods; it is important to eat varied.
- Let go of the idea that an ideal weight automatically leads to a good mood and a happy life.
- Recognize the eating disorder. Try talking to people in the environment.
- Seek contact with fellow-sufferers, especially those who are motivated to get rid of their eating disorder.
- Search for information about eating disorders on the Internet, at the library or bookstore. The more a person knows about the consequences of anorexia, the more motivation he or she has in order to do something about the problem.
- Stop visiting ‘pro ana’ sites and the follow-up of ‘pro ana’ tips.
- Keeping an eating diary can provide more insight into one’s own eating behaviour. It can also be useful to take this eating diary to the intake interviews with the therapist.
- Seek professional help.
- Anorexia nervosa was first described in 1873 by the English doctor William Withey Gull and the French doctor Ernest Charles Laségue.
- The term ‘anorexia’ is derived from the Greek word orexia (appetite); the prefix a- indicates a denial. ‘Nervosa’ refers to the alleged neurotic background.
- The prevalence of anorexia nervosa is 0.7%.
- The disease mainly affects girls and women, but can also occur in boys and men.
- Anorexia nervosa is common in people aged 15 to 30 years.