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Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder that causes people to see themselves as overweight, though they can become terribly and dangerously thin. Food avoidance and eating processes become obsessive, and the patient develops habits like avoiding meal time with family, picking a few foods and only eating those in miniscule amounts, and weighing and measuring food. Patients will sometimes undertake unusual methods of hiding their disorder. For example, they may buy cookbooks and make gourmet meals for friends but not eat the food. They may check their body weight, repeatedly and engage in compulsive activities like forced vomiting after every meal or abuse of laxatives. Because the patient eats little, the disorder is noticeable by a rapid and persistent loss of weight and extremely low body weight. Patients often become so thin that their ribs show, and their arms and legs are spindly, yet they think they are ‘fat’. Most of the patient population is comprised of young Caucasian girls, though anorexia can strike all ethnic groups and ages. The patient profile is typically that of a perfectionist, a person too good to be true, who never disobeys, does not express anger or strong emotion. They are usually good students, excellent workers and athletes.
Some doctors believe patients restrict food to have control over at least one.phpect of their lives. Because most of their life has been spent following rules, they don’t know how to deal with conflict, adolescence, or making independent decisions. Some think anorexia can be caused by family conflict -- a child tries to draw attention to herself to bring the family back together, resolve a divorce, or other family problem. Others believe that girls may refuse to eat to gain control, and become independent from their mothers. Studies show that people who participate in professions or activities emphasizing that ‘thin is beautiful’ (modeling, acting, dancing and some sports) are more susceptible to eating disorders, and that mothers who are overly concerned about the weight or physical attractiveness of their daughters may put girls at increased risk for an eating disorder. Girls with eating disorders often have fathers and brothers who are overly critical of their weight and of the weight of other women.
What are the symptoms?
Anorexia Nervosa can include primary symptoms of food avoidance and secondary health and mental health symptoms:
Possible Secondary Symptoms
How is it diagnosed and treated?It is extremely important to diagnose and treat Anorexia Nervosa as early as possible. If the symptoms of food avoidance continue, they can result in permanent damage to organs and in heart failure. The risk of heart failure increases as the patient’s heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Bone density decreases, causing osteoporosis, and the patient may experience kidney failure from chronic dehydration. Doctors will examine the patient to be sure that he/she is not suffering from metabolic, endocrine, digestive or nervous system disorders. Diagnostic tests include tests for thyroid function, blood and urine tests, ECG and a chemical analysis.
The biggest challenge in treating anorexia is getting the patient to recognize that their behavior is a problem, NOT a solution to other problems. Specialized treatment and early intervention can ensure that the patient does not endure a lifetime battle with this disorder and with the related health problems it causes. Treatments include:
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