Anorexia Nervosa: What Is It?
When speaking of or learning about Anorexia Nervosa, medically speaking of course, we are referring to a legitimate medical disease which results in the patient self-imposing excessive weight loss upon themselves. This loss of body weight is considered excessive for the body frame, height, and normal body weight for the individual disease sufferer.
Anorexia differs from other forms of eating disorder in that it not only displays many of the symptoms of other eating disorders, but it implements drastic techniques such as self-starvation at a dangerous level, making it the most dangerous eating disorder diagnosed today. It is vital that you remember that this disease is not about the food before them; this is a way for the patient to cope with and maintain control of personal problems, typically of an emotional or mental nature, mostly problems they feel they have no control over whatsoever.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa can vary, depending on level the disease has reached in the mind of the patient, the amount of distorted body image the patient is experiencing when observing themselves, and the amount of actual hiding or sneaking that may be going on in regard to the patient secretly maintaining the illness to their satisfaction. The bottom line is the fact that anorexia nervosa, much like drug addiction or hoarding, becomes a mental obsession which will indeed throw their perspective of their self in the mirror in a dangerous direction. Therefore, one of the biggest red flags as far as symptoms is the sudden intensive focus and obsession with weight loss. This may be very obvious at first, but keep in mind that as weight loss increases and loved ones show concern, the anorexic will indeed become creative in covering the behaviours they exhibit in order to continue to practice this self-destructive starvation behaviour.
Other symptoms of anorexia nervosa that loved ones should be aware of and looking for when dealing with one struggling with this disease include first and foremost, dramatic and rapid weight loss. The patient will be focused constantly on their caloric intake and calorie output, and this will be so deeply focused upon that weight loss will be more rapid than normal for a healthy diet. Also keep a close eye out for the person exercising way too much. This is a sure sign they are focused on burning calories only rather than maintaining nutrition and good health. Also be on the lookout for suppository, enema, vomiting, and other diuretic usage.
These are dangerous, almost violent, ways to rid the body of food which they believe is delivering no calories to their system if they rid themselves of the food quickly. This is a misconception, is very dangerous, and should be dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Here are some more emotional, physical, and mental signs that the illness has manifest in the life of the patient:
- Drastic loss of weight
- Edema (swelling) in the extremities
- Very thin appearance, or wears clothing way too big in order to disguise weight loss
- Easily gets cold
- Tips of fingers are frequently blue
- Menstruation ceases
- Low blood pressure
- Soft layer of hair begins to cover the body in an attempt to keep warm
There are other, much less obvious symptoms that are easily detected only after the identification of the main, more obvious symptoms of anorexia. Along with these physical symptoms, one will typically observe behavioural and emotional displays that are in line with the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa as well. These behaviours include refusal to take nourishment, loss of interest in sex, depression, social withdrawal, and lying about eating or other food intake needs. By keeping a close eye on the patient or loved one, the symptoms of anorexia can be obvious and afford you the ability to help the suffering individual in a fashion that is timely and conducive to saving their life.
Causes of Anorexia Nervosa
Because this disease is mental in nature with physical symptoms and consequences, it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of the ailment. Physicians believe it is a combination of problems including psychological, physical, and emotional issues that need sorted and treated as equally important.
Environmentally, doctors believe the surroundings of one’s upbringing may play a more important role that first believed. While genetics may be somewhat involved in the disease and its development, our culture places an unhealthy emphasis on the need to be thin. Because this is common in every circumstance from home life to school to athletics, it is very easy to observe how the pressure to be thin, especially if it relates to the future goals of the patient, can cause an unhealthy obsessive mindset. If, in order to meet the goals one has set for their future, they must be thin, and to the point it is not healthy, it will become an effort that will preoccupy to the point of sickness. In these ways, our environment, conditioning, and peer pressure can plant the seed of this illness, even going so far as to watering it and assisting it to grow to a monstrous capacity.
Biologically, we are aware of the potential for genetic illness in this arena. With each passing year we discover the ways that genetics are responsible for such mental issues involving an obsessive mindset, and this also applies to any behaviour that is addiction based, such as anorexia, an addiction and obsession with food.
It is theorized that if an individual has a genetic predisposition toward perfectionism, this is easily passed along through a combination of genetics and family conditioning. Because there is no way at the present to narrow down anorexia nervosa to a specific gene, we do combine this possibility with the other concerns, including environment and psychological state of mind when making a diagnosis.
Psychologically, anorexia nervosa has a deep root. Because the very nature of the illness is based in the mental, which is the very root of most types of psychological illness, we lean at the current time toward tying the psychological aspects and other theories together as best we can to determine the tentative cause of this severe and very evasive illness. It is our goal to continue in depth study to educate ourselves to the more specific details of the illness and the various options we may have in treating it effectively in the future.
Here are some of the risk factors that have been found to contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa in individuals. This may be helpful when exercising preventative measures.
- If your loved one is focused on the way the media wants them to look, keep a caring eye out.
- Girls are more prone to anorexia nervosa than boys. While there are diagnosed cases of males suffering from the illness, girls are far more predisposed.
- Family history can play a part in this. Have you had a family member suffer with this diagnosis? More than one? It is important to know this.
- Being young, say in the early to mid-teens, is a high risk factor in our society.
- Life changes such as moving, new friends, changing schools, a family death, or any other stress inducer can set this cycle off.
- A lot of daily responsibilities and pressure will push an individual who is young and overwhelmed in this direction as well. Help them to balance their schedule for their good.
Potential Complications of the Disease
While anorexia nervosa is not considered serious by those who have never had to deal with the illness from a medical or personal perspective, it should be made very clear indeed that this is a disease which will take the life of the patient if left untreated, and it can happen much more quickly that what one may expect. The following is a list of complications that come with the disease, and can result in the loss of life.
Consider each and every one of these thoroughly and carefully when dealing with a friend or loved one who is living with this illness.
- Kidney problems will occur due to improper care of blood sugar as well as dehydration.
- Anaemia is low iron in the blood. This causes weakness, paleness, and an inability to think or for the body to heal itself properly.
- Low potassium, sodium, chloride, and electrolytes.
- Heart conditions
- Intestinal Problems
- Loss of testosterone in males; loss of menstruation in females.
- Death of the patient.
Other obvious complications include drug and alcohol abuse, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders that will need professional help to remedy on an individual basis.
Going To The Doctor For Consultation
When the patient seeks eating disorder help and attends the first appointment made for the diagnosis of the problems they are having, there will be a number of different methods used to conclude the diagnosis and line of treatment that should be taken. Most of this will depend on the diseased and how far it has progressed in the life of the person suffering.
Some of the tests conducted will consist of the following:
- A physical examination will let the doctor know the basics of where your body stands health wise. Are you underweight? How is the blood pressure? What are other physical reflexes and symptoms like? All of these things will be covered thoroughly by the doctor. If you do not feel that questions will be answered honestly by your child or loved one, ask to speak to the doctor alone to share your observations.
- A psychological evaluation is absolutely necessary. The doctor must know the state of your thinking, what things you are focusing on, and whether or not you have begun to obsess over the weight loss that is being experienced. The evaluation will also determine what kind of anxiety you are under and if the coping skills you are using are proper and functional. It will also determine what can be done to help.
- Lab testing and blood draws will be necessary to check the state of not only your blood, but to see if there are any discrepancies in the way your brain chemistry is functioning. It is important because in order for the patient to be properly treated, all aspects must be created together.
- Other types of testing, such as x-rays or mental testing may be recommended for the thoroughness of the diagnosis. Whatever the physician or psychiatrist or psychologist recommend should be followed through with promptly, as anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening disease.
Here are the criteria used to form a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa in a patient exhibiting the above behaviours and symptoms:
1. Adamant refusal to maintain a minimum healthy body weight.
2. The absence of 3 menstrual cycles in women.
3. Overwhelming fear of being fat, even when dangerously underweight.
4. Denying the important and serious truth of what is happening as being dangerous.
Physicians have found that the above truths, when coupled with the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that signify potential anorexia, result in a solid diagnosis of the same, and treatment of the illness is in order immediately.
The Medical Profession’s Options For Treatment Of Anorexia Nervosa
Initially, hospitalization may be in order if the patient is in physical danger due to the results of the behaviour they have been exhibiting. Vitals will need to be taken often, food intake and output will need to be monitored continually and closely, and the patient will also need to undergo extensive counselling to even begin to understand they have a problem to begin with.
After stabilising the loved one in a consistent setting, the physician, in cooperation with the psychologist’s team, will determine the next course of action in the patient’s treatment. This must simultaneously maintain the continuity of wellness, but must also maintain the therapy needed to continue to keep the mindset functioning properly so they will continue to eat in a healthy manner. Depending on the patient and the progress, coupled with the depth of the disease in their lives, patients with a desire to get well have a wonderful chance for life and success.
If you have any further questions regarding anorexia nervosa or you need help for yourself or a loved one, be sure to research online for a support system that will lead you in the direction you need to go to save the life of the one who doesn’t even know they need it. Help is out there, and you will find it.