What is Anorexia Nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder classified by the unhealthy disturbance in body shape and image resulting in the refusal to maintain a minimum body weight. Individuals will go to extreme measures not only to starve themselves, but also to rid their bodies of any caloric intake they consumed through self-purging mechanisms such as self-induced vomiting, laxative, diuretics and extreme exercise.
This devastating eating disorder is the number one killer out of all the mental health disorders and up to four percent of women in the United States have a lifetime prevalence of this disorder compared to 0.1-0.3% of men. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders and as a result professional treatment is necessary before complication arise.
Risks & Complications
The medical complications associated with anorexia can be extensive and if left untreated, can be irreversible. Eating disorders affect every organ system in the body. Complications can include:
- Heart problems, such as mitral valve prolapse, abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure
- Bone loss (osteoporosis), increasing the risk of fractures
- Loss of muscle
- In females, absence of a period
- In males, decreased testosterone
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating or nausea
- Electrolyte abnormalities, such as low blood potassium, sodium and chloride
- Kidney problems
Causes of Anorexia
Anorexia nervosa results from the complex intertwining relationships between social, biological and psychological factors. This condition results from severe maladaptive behaviors triggered by trauma, anxiety, fear, low self-esteem and difficulty resolving conflicts. It is not due to a failure of behavior or will, nor is it easily controlled.
Peer pressure, preoccupation with slenderness and beauty, gaining autonomy, identity conflicts and the slippery slope of weight loss are plausible social factors many experts believe contribute to anorexia nervosa. Many young girls, for instane, become praised when they lose a little bit of weight such as 5 pounds and this praise leads down a path to more and more weight loss.
Studies have shown that there may be a 50-80% heritability factor contributing to anorexia nervosa. Specific genes have been discovered that may contribute to the development of this condition.
Individuals with anorexia nervosa have an increased likelihood of developing another mental health disorder or vice versa. Co-occurring disorders in the mental health community are known as two mental health disorders that occur at the same time and one or the other could have been the cause.