Anorexia Nervosa: Signs and Symptoms

Anorexia nervosa is a very common eating disorder that affects men and women of all ages. In fact, research shows that anorexia nervosa is so serious that it carries the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Early intervention is often the key to a successful anorexia nervosa recovery story, but in some cases families may find it difficult to find the right  anorexia nervosa treatment centers to accommodate the special needs of their loved ones. Before an individual settles on the right anorexia nervosa treatment program, it is important to have a better understanding of the disorder itself and how treatment centers can help clients on the road to recovery.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that is characterized by an obsession with weight, food intake and body shape. People with this type of eating disorder typically have a great fear of gaining weight and will restrict the number of calories they consume to the point of becoming severely underweight.

If left untreated, these disordered behaviors can lead to very severe health consequences and even death. While most people develop the disorder in their adolescent years or early adulthood, it can affect people of all ages. Studies suggest there is not one root cause of anorexia nervosa but that the disorder can develop due to certain genetic factors, emotional experiences and past traumas.

What Are the Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?

While many people believe they can determine whether or not someone has anorexia nervosa simply by looking at their outward appearance, this is not always the case. Some symptoms of anorexia nervosa are fairly easy to identify, while others are expressed internally. People with anorexia nervosa often exhibit physical symptoms as well as emotional and behavioral symptoms.

Physical Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Dizziness, fainting spells, difficulties concentrating
  • Trouble falling asleep or other sleeping problems
  • Low thyroid and hormone levels
  • Muscle weakness, slow heart rate and impaired immune functioning
  • Stomach cramping, constipation, acid reflux
  • Thinning hair, dry skin and dry or brittle nails
  • Menstrual irregularities

Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms

  • A preoccupation with dieting, weight, exercise, calories and food
  • Developing rituals surrounding food and meals
  • Rapidly losing weight or becoming severely underweight
  • Avoiding social functions, meeting with friends and withdrawing from family
  • A fixation on certain food groups or cooking (may cook meals often, but rarely eat them)
  • Obsession with counting calories and the fat contents of food
  • Depression or anxiety surrounding sharing meals with others
  • Hiding body shape with ill-fitting clothes or obsessing about body shape

What are the Health Risks Involved with Anorexia Nervosa?

One of the most important reasons families should urge their loved ones to seek anorexia nervosa treatment is to decrease their risk of certain serious health conditions like cardiac arrest, brain damage and even death. Some of the other potential health risks of anorexia nervosa include:

  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Gallstones

Anorexia Nervosa Treatment Options

Anorexia nervosa recovery is entirely possible with the help of medical treatment, psychiatric care and nutritional counseling. However, there are some major differences between the level of care provided in anorexia nervosa treatment centers located across the United States. Before committing to a program, patients should ask about options for day treatment, residential treatment or inpatient care.

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