Anorexia nervosa – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the victim starves themself. The term Anorexia nervosa means a loss of appetite due to nervous causes. Anorexia may start in adolescence or puberty, but may also develop in adults in their 20s or 30s.

It mainly affects women but an increasing number of young men are being diagnosed and children as young as 8 years old are developing this condition.

Woman sitting; image source:

Symptoms of Anorexia nervosa

In anorexia the patient is often secretive about self starvation, exercise excessively, induces vomiting and misuses lexatives. This prompts extreme weight loss (a lower than usual body mass index), secondary amenorrhoea, hyperactivity, low blood pressure, fear of weight gain, denial of hunger, slowed heart beat and hypothermia.

Anorexics regard themselves as fat or obese when in reallity they are vastly underweight and may suffer from depression and attempt suicide. If anorexia persists, the suffers starves to death.

Causes of Anorexia nervosa

The cause of this distressing condition appears to have a psychological basis. It may be triggered by a desire to be slim to fit the cultural ideal common in the industrialized world.

It is a way for a young adolescent to control her life during a period when her position in the family and her body are undergoing change. Some people become anorexic as they subconsciously want to regress to the pre-adolescent state because of fear of developing into an adult and confusion about their sexuality.

It may be triggered by a change in family circumstances, e.g. marriage, leaving home, bereavement or other suppressed grief.

Treating Anorexia nervosa

Whatever the cause, treating anorexia may be difficult. The self esteem and confidence of the sufferer need to be built up, and this can be done by family, friends and medical practitioners.

Most people are treated in specialist units or in residential homes for those with eating disorders. Counseling or Psychotherapy may help determine the basis for the condition and resolve the problem.

Hospitalization may be necessary where feeding can be controlled, and force-feeding via a nasogastric tube or intravenous drip may be needed. Approximately 50 per cent of sufferers recover completely within 4 years, 25 per cent improve, and 25 per cent remain severely affected.

Between 10 and 15 per cent of people with anorexia die from the condition, a proportion by suicide.

Periods of prolonged starvation because of anorexia result in severe damage to several body organs and tissues, including the heart and teeth, and some of this is irreversible.


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