Psychiatry, Psychotherapy


Introduction to Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition in which a person keeps their body weight as low as possible.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition in which a person keeps their body weight as low as possible. This is often done by restricting the amount they eat and exercising excessively. Many people with anorexia have a distorted image of themselves, often thinking they are much bigger than they actually are, thus perpetuating their fear of being fat. Females are most commonly affected with those developing the condition around the age of 16. It is however, recently becoming more common in boys. People who are diagnosed with anorexia have a low BMI of 15 -17.5, though in children under 18, BMI is not used. Instrad the weight of a person with anorexia is at least 15% below the average for the age, sex and height.

What causes Anorexia?

There is no definitive cause of anorexia, like most other mental health conditions. However, the disease can sometimes run in families. Identical twins are more likely to both develop the condition than non-identical twins, but this does not happen in every case so there are other factors involved too.

Puberty seems to contribute to anorexia indicating that the changes in hormones combined with stressors, low self-esteem or anxiety can trigger anorexia.

Anorexia is also more common in hobbies/occupations where body image is important such as dancing, athletics, modelling.


What are the symptoms of Anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder and so those with the condition often miss meals or eat less. People obsessively count calories, take appetite suppressants, laxatives or vomit after meals to quickly get rid of food they’ve just eaten. People often weigh themselves and exercise frequently to try and lose weight.

Physical problem which accompany a low body weight include: lightheadedness; hair loss; dry skin; difficulty concentrating and infrequent periods (menstruation) in females.

How is Anorexia treated?

Anorexia treatment involves both psychological therapy and advice on healthy eating and nutrition to help gain weight safely. This is a disease with physical and psychological implications and so a range of healthcare specialists will be involved in the care plan: GP, psychiatrists, dieticians and specialist nurses. Most people are treated as outpatients but in serious cases, they might be treated in specialist eating disorder clinics.

In some cases, medication can be used in combination with therapy. These usually treat other mental health conditions which are associated with anorexia such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. The two types of medications used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) to help with depression and olanzapine to reduce feelings of anxiety related to weight fain and diet.

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