Introduction to anorexia nervosa
Some people do experience fear when it seems as if they are gaining weight. It becomes abnormal when the fear is chronic and warrants their taking an action to combat the fear. This leads to a condition known as Anorexia Nervosa. It is a form of eating disorder where the sufferer tends to lose weight severely. An individual with anorexia nervosa is engrossed with his/her weight and the caloric content of food eaten.
They tend to feel happy with themselves upon realizing that they have lost weight that is why they consume food that has a very low caloric content or even find other alternatives such as exercising excessively just so they can shed their weight. It is most frequently seen amongst adolescent females though it is also not out of place if seen among older and younger women and men.
What are the symptoms of anorexia nervosa?
You may find the following symptoms in those with anorexia nervosa
- Failure to achieve a normal weight
- Excessive tiredness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sparse hair due to hair breakage or thinning
- Irregular menstruation such as absence of period for 3 consecutive months
- Skin dryness
- Hypotension: a blood pressure < 90/60mmhg
Some other notable symptoms may include:
- Taking an unusually longer time to eat because he/she starts cutting food into smaller pieces or even plays with the food rather than actually eating it
- Exercising at abnormal rates
- Denies that they are hungry
- Looks sad and moody
- Does not participate in social activities
- Very grumpy
- Use of purgatives, drugs that cause excess fluid loss or slimming drugs
They maintain their reduced weight by focusing on dietary restriction or exercise. Some even eat excessively and take purgatives thereafter. Some induce vomiting, others take diuretics just to lose weight.
Causes of anorexia nervosa
The etiology is widely unknown though some associated risk factors exist including body composition, the environment one finds herself in and, human psychology. These people with anorexia nervosa seek to achieve a perfect body image and so they view their present body image negatively.
The human genes and hormones probably have a role to play in the development of the condition. One of such is the association of serotonin with anorexia nervosa. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced from the amino acid, Tryptophan.
The society also contributes by painting a healthier body image as not beautiful. This puts pressure on the masses to be thin so they can blend-in. so you watch a fashion channel, read a magazine, go on social media to find out that those mostly appreciated are the thin ones, how do you feel? That’s the environmental influence hence the increased need for advocacy to present an acceptable body size on media outlets.
Though anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder, it has psychiatric tendencies as it strongly resembles an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) thus people with compulsive disorders may suffer anorexia nervosa strongly because they will be very strict with following diet restrictions.
Diagnosing anorexia nervosa
An observant Doctor tries to look out for any pointer that shows that:
- One is not eating properly
- Ones gets afraid of gaining weight
- One has a negative body image.
He will examine the cardiovascular system by checking the pulse rate and blood pressure. He may go further by conducting a mental health examination, assessing eating behaviors and feelings.
Certain tests can be done and they include blood tests to check the liver and kidney functioning and even electrolyte levels. Furthermore, heart check and bone density check can be done to rule out anomalies. Bear in mind that there are other possible causes of weight loss such as cancers, coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and, ulcerative colitis may also cause weight loss so necessary tests are done to rule out such possibilities.
How can I treat anorexia nervosa?
Many people with this condition are often not aware that they need help, one of the causes of diagnostic difficulty. This makes it harder to treat them. The aim of treatment is to achieve a normal body weight and eating behaviors. Certain individuals may encounter this problem for their entire life span. Involvement of a dietician to plan meals coupled with incorporating the family into the treatment approach is necessary.
A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy can be used here. It is directed at unhealthy thoughts and behaviors with a goal of building a positive self-esteem and strong feelings.
The family members involved in this care serve as monitors to ensure that you eat healthy. Another advantage is that internal conflicts can be solved and the members serve as support system for the patient.
This should be done while being supervised by a trained medical professional else while interacting unsupervised with those with similar complaints, they may even compete for the thinnest position.
There are no drugs made specifically for treating this condition. Sufferers tend to be depressed so antidepressants can be given to calm/elate them but they do not kill their feeling of losing weight.
For very severe cases, hospital admission may be warranted where the doctor closely monitors you for any possible effects the anorexia nervosa may have caused. For very low weights with attendant dehydration, nutritional intervention is done via a feeding tube or intravenous fluids given for a few days. For one who still refuses to eat, comprehensive treatment is being given over a longer period of time.
While some people may recover, others won’t. In more severe cases, the condition can be fatal. Some end up developing other eating disorders. It may take a lifetime to overcome anorexia nervosa by some other people. Interaction with others by way of support groups helps hasten recovery.
Prevention of anorexia nervosa
No substantial preventive mode exists. Be on the lookout for symptoms to enhance early diagnosis and treatment. So any suspicious behaviors like exercising excessively, obsessing about body weight, or having a negative view about one’s body image should seek professional help.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.