In rich countries, it is common to find adolescents (mostly girls from 12 to 20 years) who are reluctant to eat to prevent obesity. These behaviors do not last however; and they go unnoticed in the majority of cases. This psychological behavior becomes a problem when the obsession with weight loss leading to severe food restriction, anorexia.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a severe loss of appetite or refusal to eat due to fear to gain weight. In some people, the disorder becomes so chronic that they can lose up to 50% of normal weight; about 10% of them die.
What are the causes of anorexia?
The underlying causes of Anorexia are diverse. They can be organic (brain tumors or brain injury affecting the hypothalamus or the cerebral cortex), mental (fear to gain weight, stressful situations such as sexual abuse), environmental (living in a society where physical appearance determines how one is appreciated) or linked to drugs abuse. Anorexia can be also provoked by digestive tract infection, stomach tumor, gastric ulcer, liver disorders or certain infectious diseases including but not limited to pneumonia and tuberculosis.
Although controversial, the anorexia nervosa can be sometimes caused by family or professionals emotional conflicts. Family disharmony can play a role in developing anorexia in adolescents. Adolescents who have family member struggled with anorexia are more likely to develop the disease.
Scientists recognize two types of anorexics nervosa: Restricting Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa
Restricting Anorexia Nervosa – in this type eating disorder, the person severely limits his/her food intake and exercise excessively in a way to lose weight. Restricting Anorexia Nervosa affects about 1% of adolescent and young adult women
Bulimia Nervosa – in this condition, the anorexic eats, but binges and purges her/her body by self-induced vomiting. This disorder affects about 2% of adolescent and young adult women.
What are the symptoms of anorexia?
In addition to extreme weight loss, physically and mentally, anorexia presents a wide range of symptoms.
• Denial feelings of hunger
• Memory loss and /or difficulty concentrating
• Fear of fatty foods, even healthy fats
• Unreasonable fear of gaining weight
• Excessive physical activity need
• Refusal of maintaining a normal body weight
• Feeling of low self-esteem comparably to others’ weight and size
• Pale appearance
• Stomach problems
• low blood pressure
• dental cavities – caused by self-induced vomiting
• Lanugo (brittle hair) due to low body fat
• Fatigue and weakened immune
• Cold or frequent season allergies
• Excessive or abnormal weight loss
• Constipation and abdominal pain
• Dehydration due to lack of fluid intake
• Skin disorders – dry skin, skin discoloration
• Lack of or absence sexual desire (male)
• Amenorrhea or Abnormal menstruation – absence of period for at least 3 consecutive menstrual cycles (female)
What is the diagnosis of Anorexia?
Although anorexia can be easily suspected, your physician may recommend certain tests and exams to confirm the diagnostic: physical exam, X-rays, mental examination, and blood tests are the most common procedures used to confirm an anorexia.
Physical exam – this type of exam aims at checking vital signs of your body such as blood pressure, heart rate (measuring the number of heart beats per minute), and listening to your lungs. During physical exam, the doctor may also look for abdominal problems and skin dryness.
X-rays – radiographic exams are sometimes done to check for pneumonia or broken bones. To rule out heart problems, electrocardiogram is often recommended by most doctors.
Mental Exam– also called psychological evaluation, mental examination is performed to evaluate your thoughts or any mental problem which can lead to bad eating habits. In some cases, this exam is enough to detect the root of the anorexia.
Blood Tests – complete blood count (CBC), also known as full blood count (FBC), is often included in the diagnosis of anorexia. The CBC, along with other specialized blood tests (total serum protein test, liver function tests, etc.), allow the physician to evaluating the total amount of protein in your blood and the functioning of your liver, kidney and thyroid.
What is the treatment of anorexia?
The first and most difficult step in treating anorexia nervosa or any eating disorder treatment is having the anorexic recognize the serious health problems he/she is facing.
The treatment must be flexible and well balanced. Sometimes, it imposes family and friends participation in order to increase confident in the patient. In some cases, the treatment requires family separation with hospitalization in a specialized service involving psychiatrists, nutritionists and psychology. In cases of anxiety and depression, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications may be prescribed. Once a normal weight is stabilized, the anorexic, to avoid a relapse, must practice a good eating habit and continue psychotherapy for several months or even years.
To function properly, the human body needs to be well nourished. If anorexia left untreated, various organs in the body can be affected or damaged resulting in serious complications. The following are some life-threatening diseases that can result from anorexia: complete memory loss, osteoporosis, Kidney stones, which can lead to kidney failure; Irregular heart rhythms, which can lead to heart failure, and death.