Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that's far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively.
Anorexia nervosa isn't really about food. It's an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia nervosa, you often equate thinness with self-worth.
Anorexia nervosa can be difficult to overcome. But with treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia's serious complications.
The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is unknown. As with many diseases, it's probably a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
Biological: There may be genetic changes that make some people more vulnerable to developing anorexia. However, it's not clear specifically how your genes could cause anorexia. It may be that some people have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity and perseverance, all traits associated with anorexia.
Psychological: Some emotional characteristics may contribute to anorexia. Young women may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it easier to stick to strict diets and forgo food despite being hungry. They may have an extreme drive for perfectionism, which means they may never think they're thin enough.
Environmental: Modern Western culture emphasizes thinness. The media are splashed with images of thin models and actors. Success and worth are often equated with being thin. Peer pressure may help fuel the desire to be thin, particularly among young girls.
When you have anorexia, you may need several types of treatment. If your life is in immediate danger, you may need treatment in a hospital emergency room for such issues as a heart rhythm disturbance, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances or psychiatric problems.
Here's a look at what's commonly involved in treating people with anorexia:
Because of the host of complications anorexia causes, you may need frequent monitoring of vital signs, hydration level and electrolytes, as well as related physical conditions.
Restoring a healthy weight:
The first goal of treatment is getting back to a healthy weight.
Individual, family-based and group therapy may all be beneficial.
There are no medications specifically designed to treat anorexia because they haven't been found to work very well. However, antidepressants or other psychiatric medications can help treat other mental disorders you may also have, such as depression or anxiety.
In cases of medical complications, psychiatric emergencies, severe malnutrition or continued refusal to eat, hospitalization may be needed.