Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and, more importantly, a psychological disorder.
The cause of anorexia has not been definitively established, but self-esteem and body-image issues, societal pressures, and genetic factors likely each play a role.
Anorexia affects females far more often than males and is most common in adolescent females.
Anorexia tends to affect the middle and upper socioeconomic classes and Caucasians more often than less advantaged classes and ethnic minorities in the United States.
The disorder affects about 1% of adolescent girls and about 0.3% of males in the U.S.
People with anorexia tend to show compulsive behaviors, may become obsessed with food, and often show behaviors consistent with other addictions in their efforts to overly control their food intake and weight.
Men with anorexia are more likely to also have other psychological problems; affected women tend to be more perfectionistic and be more displeased with their bodies.
Children and adolescents with anorexia are at risk for a slowing of their growth and development.
The extreme dieting and weight loss of anorexia can lead to a potentially fatal degree of malnutrition.
Other possible complications of anorexia include heart-rhythm disturbances, digestive abnormalities, bone density loss, anemia, and hormonal and electrolyte imbalances.
Given the prevalence of denial of symptoms by individuals with anorexia, gathering information from loved ones of the anorexia sufferer is important in the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.
Most medications are much better at treating symptoms that are associated with anorexia than addressing the specific symptoms of anorexia themselves.
The treatment of anorexia must focus on more than just weight gain and often involves a combination of individual, group, and family psychotherapies in addition to nutritional counseling.
The Maudsley model of family therapy, in which the family actively participates in helping their loved one achieve a more healthy weight, is considered the most effective method of family therapy for treating anorexia in adolescents.
The prognosis of anorexia is variable, with some people making a full recovery. Others experience a fluctuating pattern of weight gain followed by relapse or a progressively deteriorating course over many years.
Helping people understand the unrealistic and undesirable nature of media representations of excessive thinness as beautiful is one way to help prevent anorexia.
As with many other illnesses with addictive symptoms, it takes a day-to-day effort to control the urge to relapse, and treatment may be needed on a long-term basis.
Increased understanding of the causes and treatments for anorexia remain the focus of ongoing research in the effort to improve the outcomes of individuals with this disorder