Anorexia Nervosa

February 20, 2011

What is it?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a relentless pursuit of thinness drives a person to resort to strategies for weight loss. This often results in a significant weight loss.

Anorexic people have an intense fear of gaining weight despite being extremely thin. In 90 per cent of cases, it affects adolescent and young adult women, who range from 12 to 20 years of age. It is a disease with clinical risks and that may lead to starvation.

What are the causes?

There is no single cause to explain the development of anorexia nervosa. This syndrome is considered multifactor by a mixture of biological, psychological, familial and cultural factors. Some studies have called attention to the extreme valuation of thinness and prejudice with fat in western societies, which would be strongly associated with the occurrence of these cases.

How does it develop?

The preoccupation with weight and body shape leads teenagers to opt for a diet progressively more selective with minimal high-calorie foods. Other strategies that teenagers opt for weight loss such as excessive exercise and absolute fasting could also lead to anorexia nervosa.

People who consider themselves fat, despite being extremely thin, eventually become a slave of the calories and rituals in relation to food. They isolate themselves from family and friends, become increasingly sad, angry and anxious.

There is hardly a person with anorexia who admits about the problem and prefers not to accept help in any way. The family sometimes takes a while to realise that something is seriously wrong.

Thus, people with anorexia nervosa may not receive medical treatment until they have become dangerously thin and malnourished.

  •   Medical complications
  •   Malnutrition and dehydration.
  •   Hypotension (low blood pressure).
  •   Anaemia
  •   Reduced muscle mass.
  •   Intolerance to cold.
  •   Decreased gastric motility.
  •   Amenorrhea (stopping of menstrual cycle).
  •  Osteoporosis (bone thinning and weakness).
  •   Infertility in chronic cases.
  •   More prone to infections with compromised immune systems

How is it prevented?

A decrease in cultural and family pressure regarding the valuation of physical, bodily form and beauty can possibly help control this problem. It is essential to provide information about the risks of strict regimes for obtaining a silhouette 'ideal' as they play a key role in triggering eating disorders.

How to treat it?

Treatment should be carried out by a multidisciplinary team consisting psychiatrist, psychologist, pediatrician and clinical nutritionist, depending on the nature of the problem.

When diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, the physician should assess whether the patient is at imminent risk of life, thus requiring hospitalisation.

The primary objective of treatment is the recovery of body weight through dietary re-education as well as with psychological support. In general, we need some form of psychotherapy to help patients cope with their illness and underlying emotional issues.

Individual psychotherapy (psychotherapy that teaches patients to modify abnormal thoughts and behaviour) are generally very productive.

For the table of anorexia nervosa, there is a specific medication indicated. The use of antidepressants can be effective if there are persistent symptoms of depression after recovery of body weight.

Treatment of anorexia nervosa is often slow and difficult. The patient must remain in attendance after improvement of symptoms to prevent relapses.