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Anorexia Nervosa : Causes, Types, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

What Is Anorexia Nervosa (AN)?

Anorexia Nervosa is also referred as anorexia, which is an eating disorder characterized by intense fear of gaining weight, abnormally low weight and distorted perception of body weight. People suffering from this disorder try to control their body shape, weight which affects their lives extremely.

Anorexia Nervosa

To continue losing weight or to prevent weight gain, people usually limit their food consumption. They try to control calorie by vomiting after eating or by misusing diet aids, enemas or diuretics. Alternatively they may also try excessive exercising to lose weight.

People suffering from anorexia nervosa purge and binge similar, to the people suffering from bulimia nervosa. Most of the people suffering from bulimia are above the normal weight, whereas people, with anorexia nervosa have abnormally low body weight. The person with anorexia nervosa has an intense fear of gaining weight. If you think anorexia is about food, then it is not. It is a wrong way to cope up with emotional issues.

What Are The Causes Of Anorexia Nervosa (AN)?

There is no proper answer for the causes of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. This disorder is combination of biological, emotional and social factors. There are many other contributing factors which include traumatic experiences, low self esteem, emotional difficulties and family environment etc… Below are few are the Reasons for Anorexia Nervosa:

  • Genetic Reasons: Research notifies that a genetic predisposition to anorexia nervosa run in families. The chemistry of the brain also plays vital role in anorexia. People with anorexia tend to have more brain hormones related to stress, high level of cortisol and decreased level of norepinephrine and serotonin that are associated with a feeling of well-being.
  • Intellectual Reasons: Individuals with anorexia nervosa are often overachievers and perfectionists. They are excelling in everything and always please others. They have all this outside and in the inside they feel futile, inadequate and destitute.
  • Household and Community Pressures: Moreover to the cultural pressure, there is also family and social pressure which contributes in this disorder. It includes participation in activities that leads to slenderness such as modeling, gymnastics or ballet. Over controlling parent can also put emphasis on the child suffering from the eating disorder. Stressful life like a breakup, puberty, or going away from school can also lead to anorexia nervosa.

Types of Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is of two types. In the restricting type of anorexia, person achieves weight loss by restricting calories. In the purging type of anorexia nervosa, weight loss is attained by using diuretics and laxatives or vomiting.

Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

  • Modifications in genes can make people inclined to develop anorexia.
  • Patients with a first degree relative-siblings, child or parent who have the disorder are at higher risk of anorexia nervosa.
  • Weight alteration. When people gain or lose weight intentionally or purposely-this might be the result of negative or positive comments from surrounding people. These comments trigger the patients to start dieting.
  • Big Life Changes. Whether it’s a new job, school or home, or death or illness of a loved one, or a relationship breakup, this change can increase the emotional stress and lead to the risk of anorexia nervosa.
  • Artistic, work and sports activities. Dancers, actors, athletes and models are at high risk of anorexia nervosa. Young athletes, mostly lose weight because of the suggestions made by their parents and coaches.
  • The media like fashion magazines and TV, features skinny actors and models. Media reflects that thinness can gain popularity and success.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

The physical symptoms and signs of anorexia Nervosa are associated with starvation, but the disorder also involves behavior and emotional issues which are associated with unrealistic perception of the weight of the body.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

Physical symptoms and signs of anorexia include:

  • Blistering of arms and legs
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • heart rhythms change
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Cut of menstruation
  • Soft, downy hair covering the body
  • Hair which thins and falls out
  • Bluish blemish of the fingers
  • Giddiness or fainting
  • Insomnia
  • Weariness
  • unusual blood count
  • lean appearance
  • Severe weight loss.

Other Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia Nervosa behavioral symptoms may include efforts to lose weight by restricting food consumption by dieting or fasting and can include excessive exercise.

Bingeing and self induced vomiting and in order to get rid of the consumed food and includes the use of herbal products, laxatives, diet aids and enemas. Other symptoms and signs associated with anorexia may include:

  • Concern about weight gain
  • Denial of hunger
  • Refusal to eat
  • Obsession with food
  • Thinking of suicide
  • Unhappy mood
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Anger
  • Social disengagement
  • Sad mood.

Tests to Diagnose Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

  • Physical Test: It can include measuring your weight and height; checking vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, heart rate; listening to your lungs and heart, checking your nails and skin and examining your abdomen.
  • Laboratory Test: It includes complete blood count and detail blood test for checking protein and electrolytes as well as the functioning of your liver, kidney, and thyroid.
  • Psychological Test: The health provider or doctor will ask you about your feelings and thoughts.
    Check for stress fractures, x-ray can help to check your bone density, or check for heart problems or pneumonia. Electrocardiograms can be used to look for irregularities in heart. The nutritional requirement for you will be planned after examining how much quantity of energy your body uses.

Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

As anorexia nervosa includes both body and mind, treatment should be done by team efforts. People involved in treatment for anorexia nervosa are dieticians, doctors, counselors, psychologists, and medical doctors. The support from the family members can make a huge difference in the success of treatment. The recovery can be easier with family supports.

Medications/Hospitalization to Treat Anorexia Nervosa:

The first step in anorexia treatments is to stabilize and addressing any serious health issues. If the malnourishment is serious then hospitalization might be necessary. You will be hospitalized until you reach the weight, which is less critical. If you are not in the immediate medical danger, then you can opt for the outpatient treatment.

Nutritional Counseling to Treat Anorexia Nervosa:

Second stage of the anorexia treatment is to go through the nutritional counseling. You can learn about proper nutrition and healthy eating from the dietician or nutritionist. They will also help you to follow meal plans, which involve enough calories to maintain or reach a normal and healthy weight.

Talk Therapy for Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia treatment needs proper counseling. The talk therapy or psychotherapy makes one realize about the feelings and thoughts that is fueling the eating disorder and change them with the healthier ones. Another objective of the counseling is to teach the person to deal with stress, difficult emotions, relationships which are better than being self-destructive.


Neuromodulation treatment such as transcranial direct current stimulation, deep brain stimulation and repetitive transcranial current stimulation like newer technologies has given successful results in treatment of anorexia nervosa even in severe cases.

Prevention of Anorexia Nervosa (AN)

There is no guaranteed way in which anorexia nervosa can be prevented. Primary care physicians can help to identifying the symptoms of anorexia before it becomes a disorder. The heath care provides will initially ask about your eating habits. During routine medical appointments, they will ask you about the appearance satisfaction.

If you observe friend or family member has severe dieting habits, low self-esteem and hating their bodies in terms of appearance, then talk to them about such issues. You cannot treat the problem merely by talking or prevent it so consider discussing about healthy behavior, which can let them know about advantages of eating healthy food.


  1. National Eating Disorders Association. Understanding Anorexia Nervosa. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia
  2. Mayo Clinic. Anorexia Nervosa: Overview. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591
  3. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 20, 2023

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