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Anorexia The Psychology Service
Anorexia Nervosa

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious eating disorder, in which the sufferer believes they are very fat despite usually being underweight, and in serious cases even dangerously emaciated. They will go to great lengths to lose weight, often at considerable risk to their health. In milder cases, and in the early stages of the condition, Anorexia Nervosa can be mistaken for a culturally normal concern about putting on weight. It has been called “the slimmer’s disease” because some believe that normal dieting in a young person can lead to their developing Anorexia Nervosa. However, it is not clear whether this is the case or not, although the condition is more common in cultures where there is an emphasis on the desirability of thinness. It is distinguished from a normal concern about weight by the presence of a marked disturbance of body image, combined with an intense fear of putting on weight.

It rarely follows a one-off trauma, but can follow prolonged abuse. Often, however, it is not clear what has actually caused someone to become anorexic. It is most common in younger females, with the largest number of cases occurring between the ages of 14 and 18, but can less commonly occur in any age range and can also occur in males.

What are the symptoms?

The person is intensely afraid to put on weight, starves themselves to lose weight, and will often exercise excessively and take laxatives. However, the fear does not usually decrease, and may in fact increase with weight loss. They are normally secretive about their attempts to lose weight and family members suffer considerable stress and worry. There are often significant problems of mood, with depressed mood and general anxiety. Some people suffer Obsessive-compulsive symptoms. As well as excessive thinness, in the more advanced stages there are other physical signs and symptoms, such as menstruation stopping, and a fine coat of hair growing on the body.

How long does it last?

Although some people suffer one single episode and then recover, the condition can fluctuate and can become chronic. There can be serious effects on physical health and in some cases it can even be fatal. Even after treatment has been effective there is often a danger of relapse.

What is the treatment?

In milder cases, out patient CBT often combined with anti-depressants has been found effective. More severe and chronic cases require specialist in-patient treatment with a multidisciplinary approach to both mental and physical health.

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