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Anorexia Nervosa Health Center

Anorexia Nervosa

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What Are the Symptoms of Anorexia?

The symptoms of anorexia often include the following:

  • Rapid weight loss over several weeks or months
  • Continuing to diet/limited eating even when thin or when weight is very low
  • Having an unusual interest in food, calories, nutrition, or cooking
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Strange eating habits or routines, such as eating in secret
  • Feeling fat, even if underweight
  • Inability to realistically assess one's own body weight
  • Striving for perfection and being very self-critical
  • Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-esteem
  • Depression, anxiety, or irritability
  • Infrequent or irregular, or even missed menstrual periods in females
  • Laxative, diuretic, or diet pill use
  • Frequent illness
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Social withdrawal
  • Physical symptoms that develop over time, including: low tolerance of cold weather, brittle hair and nails, dry or yellowing skin, anemia, constipation, swollen joints, tooth decay, and a new growth of thin hair over the body

Untreated, anorexia nervosa can lead to:

  • Damaged organs, especially the heart, brain, and kidneys
  • Drop in blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rates
  • Loss of hair
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Thinning of bones (osteoporosis)
  • Fluid-electrolyte imbalance
  • Death from starvation or suicide

 

How Is Anorexia Diagnosed?

Identifying anorexia can be challenging. Secrecy, shame, and denial are characteristics of the disorder. As a result, the illness can go undetected for long periods of time.

If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose anorexia, the doctor might use various diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, to rule out physical illness as the cause of the weight loss, as well as to evaluate the effects of the weight loss on the body's organs.

If no physical illness is found, the person might be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists may use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for an eating disorder.

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