Diseases & Conditions


AnorexiaCausesComplicationsDiagnosisMedicationsRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is a condition of maintaining a body weight less than the minimum. It is a health disorder because a person does not have the right body mass index.

Causes of Anorexia

The main cause of Anorexia is a distorted self image. It is a condition common in women than men. When individual restricts the diet intake in order to meet some physical goals, he or she is changing the body’s metabolism. The exact cause of the condition is unknown. Genes and hormones are known to contribute as much as social values that promote thinner physical images. Stress and events that contribute to it, can lead to anorexia.

Complications of Anorexia

Anorexia by itself is not a disease. The complication of this state of being, warrants immediate attention. These complications include

  • Decrease in white blood cells which leads to increased risk of infection
  • Severe dehydration
  • Severe malnutrition
  • Bloating or swelling
  • Bone weakening
  • Electrolyte imbalance (such as low potassium)
  • Dangerous heart rhythm
  • Seizures due to fluid loss from excessive diarrhea or vomiting
  • Thyroid gland problems, which can lead to cold intolerance and constipation
  • Tooth erosion and decay

Diagnosis of Anorexia

Diagnosis of anorexia is two pronged approach. When there is a psychological element involved, it does not require extensive medical testing, particularly in young people. However, confirmatory testing is done only after ruling out physiological problems that can cause similar symptoms. The tests done are

  • Albumin
  • Bone density tests to check for thin bones (osteoporosis)
  • CBC
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Electrolytes
  • Kidney function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Total protein
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Urinalysis

Medications for Anorexia

Medical treatment in case of anorexics, apart from the intervening nutritional treatment, is to treat psychological problems like depression and anxiety. olanzapine (Zyprexa, Zydis), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and antidepressants are some of them. However, these medications do not help control the desire to lose weight itself.

Risk factors of Anorexia

  • Increased concern about self image
  • Insecurity and concerns about acceptability
  • Having parents who are addicted or anorexic
  • Stress due to work or other traumatic incidents
  • Sense of perfectionism with respect to physical appearance
  • Being woman as more woman are concerned about their body

Symptoms of Anorexia

  • Body weight that is lesser than the minimum required
  • Fear of putting on weight despite being underweight
  • Excessively sensitivity about one’s body weight and shape
  • Eating less to reduce the intake of calories in order to stay in shape
  • Working out intensely and more frequently than what is considered normal for body with current weight and physical state.
  • Behavioral problems
  • Yellow skin
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Irregular periods in women

Treatment for Anorexia

Treatment is directed to get an affected individual increase the body weight. The greatest difficulty in treating anorexics is to get to understand that they have an eating disorder. Most individuals who are anorexic do not accept this and deny that they have a health problem. Hence before treatment is started, individuals are at fairly advanced stage of the problem and complications arising out of it, need specific treatments.

Often a hospital stay for an anorexic may be necessary if the weight is below 70% the minimum weight. Severe malnutrition can be fatal if not treated immediately. Most individuals also tend to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts. Therefore they are also treated for depression.

In addition to medical treatment, a patient of anorexia is also given cognitive and behavioral therapy so as to change the attitude. Healthy living is emphasized through such sessions, in order to reduce the chances of occurrence after treatment.