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An eating disorder characterized by refusal to maintain a minimally accepted body weight, intense fear of weight gain, self-starvation, and distorted body image. Inadequate calorie intake or excessive energy expenditure results in severe weight loss.
Persons most commonly affected: Adolescents or young adulthood of both sexes (peak age range for onset is 14-18 years). More common in women. Seen mainly in Caucasian women who are high academic achievers and have a goal-oriented family or personality.
Organ or part of body involved: Digestive tract.
Symptoms and indications: Weight loss of 15% or greater below the expected weight, inappropriate use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics (water pills) in an effort to lose weight, self-imposed food intake restrictions, absence of menstruation, skeletal muscle atrophy, loss of fatty tissue, low blood pressure, blotchy or yellow skin, depression may be present in addition to the eating disorder. Most individuals with anorexia nervosa refuse to recognize that they have an eating disorder.
Causes and risk factors: The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is not known, but social attitudes towards body appearance, occupational goals, and family factors are believed to play a role in its development.
Prevention: The biggest challenge in treating anorexia nervosa is having the person recognize that their eating behavior is itself a problem, not a solution to other problems. However, most people who suffer from anorexia nervosa deny that they have an eating disorder. Therefore, most individuals enter treatment when their condition is fairly advanced. The purpose of treatment is first to restore normal body weight and eating habits, and then attempt to resolve psychological issues. Hospitalization may be indicated in some cases (usually when body weight falls below 30% of expected weight). Supportive care by health care providers, structured behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and anti-depressant drug therapy are some of the methods that are used for treatment. Severe and life-threatening malnutrition may require intravenous feeding.