"Miss A—" pictured in 1866 and in 1870 after treatment. She was one of the earliest case studies of anorexia. From the published medical papers of Sir William Gull
|Classification and external resources|
|Patient UK||Anorexia nervosa|
Anorexia nervosa, often referred to simply as anorexia, is an eating disorder characterized by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction. Many people with anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they are underweight. If asked they usually deny they have a problem with low weight. Often they weigh themselves frequently, eat only small amounts, and only eat certain foods. Some will exercise excessively, force themselves to vomit, or use laxatives to produce weight loss. Complications may include osteoporosis, infertility, and heart damage among others. Women will often stop having menstrual periods.
The cause is not known. There appears to be some genetic components with identical twins more often affected than non-identical twins. Cultural factors also appear to play a role with societies that value thinness having higher rates of disease. Additionally, it occurs more commonly among those involved in activities that value thinness such as high level athletics, modelling, and dancing. Anorexia often begins following a major life change or stress inducing event. The diagnosis requires a significantly low weight. The severity of disease is based on body mass index (BMI) in adults with mild disease having a BMI of greater than 17, moderate a BMI of 16 to 17, severe a BMI of 15 to 16, and extreme a BMI less than 15. In children a BMI for age percentile of less than the 5th percentile is often used.
Treatment of anorexia involves restoring a healthy weight, treating the underlying psychological problems, and addressing behaviors that promote the problem. While medications do not help with weight gain, they may be used to help with associated anxiety or depression. A number of types of therapy may be useful including an approach where parents assume responsibility for feeding their child, known as Maudsley family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes people require admission to hospital to restore weight. Evidence for benefit from nasogastric tube feeding; however, is unclear. Some people will just have a single episode and recover while others may have many episodes over years. Many complications improve or resolve with regaining of weight.
Anorexia is estimated to occur in 0.9% to 4.3% of women and 0.2% to 0.3% of men in Western countries at some point in their life. About 0.4% of young females are affected in a given year and it is estimate to occur ten times less commonly in males. Rates in most of the developing world are unclear. Often it begins during the teen years or young adulthood. While anorexia became more commonly diagnosed during the 20th century it is unclear if this was due to an increase in its frequency or simply better diagnosis. In 2013 it directly resulted in about 600 deaths globally up from 400 deaths in 1990. Eating disorders also increase a person's risk of death from a wide range of other causes including suicide. About 5% of people with anorexia die from complications over a ten year period. The term anorexia nervosa was first used in 1873 by William Gull to describe this condition.
- 1 Signs and symptoms
- 2 Causes
- 3 Mechanisms
- 4 Diagnosis
- 5 Treatment
- 6 Prognosis
- 7 Epidemiology
- 8 History
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Signs and symptoms
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by attempts to lose weight, to the point of starvation. A person with anorexia nervosa may exhibit a number of signs and symptoms, the type and severity of which may vary and may be present but not readily apparent.
Anorexia nervosa, and the associated malnutrition that results from self-imposed starvation, can cause complications in every major organ system in the body. Hypokalaemia, a drop in the level of potassium in the blood, is a sign of anorexia nervosa. A significant drop in potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythms, constipation, fatigue, muscle damage and paralysis. Some individuals may the lack awareness that they are ill.
Symptoms may include:
- Refusal to maintain a normal body mass index for one's age
- Amenorrhea, a symptom that occurs after prolonged weight loss; causes menses to stop, hair becomes brittle, and skin becomes yellow and unhealthy.
- Fearful of even the slightest weight gain and takes all precautionary measures to avoid weight gain and becoming overweight
- Obvious, rapid, dramatic weight loss to at least 15% under normal body weight
- Lanugo: soft, fine hair growing on the face and body
- Obsession with calories and fat content of food
- Preoccupation with food, recipes, or cooking; may cook elaborate dinners for others, but not eat the food themselves
- Food restriction despite being underweight
- Food rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, refusing to eat around others, hiding or discarding food
- Purging: May use laxatives, diet pills, ipecac syrup, or water pills; may engage in self-induced vomiting; may run to the bathroom after eating in order to vomit and quickly get rid of ingested calories
- Excessive exercise
- Perception of self as overweight despite being told by others they are too thin
- Intolerance to cold and frequent complaints of being cold; body temperature may lower (hypothermia) in an effort to conserve energy
- Hypotension or orthostatic hypotension
- Bradycardia or tachycardia
- Solitude: may avoid friends and family; becomes withdrawn and secretive
- Abdominal distension
- Halitosis (from vomiting or starvation-induced ketosis)
- Dry hair and skin, as well as hair thinning
- Chronic fatigue
- Rapid mood swings
Other psychological issues may factor into anorexia nervosa; some fulfill the criteria for a separate Axis I diagnosis or a personality disorder which is coded Axis II and thus are considered comorbid to the diagnosed eating disorder. Some people have a previous disorder which may increase their vulnerability to developing an eating disorder and some develop them afterwards.[medical citation needed] The presence of Axis I or Axis II psychiatric comorbidity has been shown to affect the severity and type of anorexia nervosa symptoms in both adolescents and adults.[medical citation needed]
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are highly comorbid with AN, particularly the restrictive subtype. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is linked with more severe symptomatology and worse prognosis. The causality between personality disorders and eating disorders has yet to be fully established.[medical citation needed] Other comorbid conditions include depression, alcoholism, borderline and other personality disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Depression and anxiety are the most common comorbidities, and depression is associated with a worse outcome.
Autism spectrum disorders have a higher prevalence among people with eating disorders than in the general population. Zucker et al. (2007) proposed that conditions on the autism spectrum make up the cognitive endophenotype underlying anorexia nervosa and appealed for increased interdisciplinary collaboration.
There is evidence for biological, psychological, developmental, and sociocultural risk factors, but the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown.
- Genetics: anorexia nervosa is highly heritable. Twin studies have shown a heritability rate of between 28 and 58%. Association studies have been performed, studying 128 different polymorphisms related to 43 genes including genes involved in regulation of eating behavior, motivation and reward mechanics, personality traits and emotion. Consistent associations have been identified for polymorphisms associated with agouti-related peptide, brain derived neurotrophic factor, catechol-o-methyl transferase, SK3 and opioid receptor delta-1. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation, may contribute to the development or maintenance of anorexia nervosa, though clinical research in this area is in its infancy.
- Obstetric complications: prenatal and perinatal complications may factor into the development of anorexia nervosa, such as maternal anemia, diabetes mellitus, preeclampsia, placental infarction, and neonatal cardiac abnormalities. Neonatal complications may also have an influence on harm avoidance, one of the personality traits associated with the development of AN.[medical citation needed]
- Neuroendocrine dysregulation: altered signalling of peptides that facilitate communication between the gut, brain and adipose tissue, such as ghrelin, leptin, neuropeptide Y and orexin, may contribute to the pathogenesis of anorexia nervosa by disrupting regulation of hunger and satiety.
- Infections: Some people are hypothesized to have developed anorexia abruptly as a reaction to a streptococcus or mycoplasma infection. Pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS) is a hypothesis describing children who have abrupt, dramatic onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or anorexia nervosa coincident with the presence of two or more neuropsychiatric symptoms.
Studies have hypothesized the continuance of disordered eating patterns may be epiphenomena of starvation. The results of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment showed normal controls exhibit many of the behavioral patterns of anorexia nervosa (AN) when subjected to starvation. This may be due to the numerous changes in the neuroendocrine system, which results in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Another hypothesis is that anorexia nervosa is more likely to occur in populations in which obesity is more prevalent, and results from a sexually selected evolutionary drive to appear youthful in populations in which size becomes the primary indicator of age.
Anorexia nervosa is more likely to occur in a person's pubertal years. Some explanatory hypotheses for the rising prevalence of eating disorders in adolescence are "increase of adipose tissue in girls, hormonal changes of puberty, societal expectations of increased independence and autonomy that are particularly difficult for anorexic adolescents to meet; [and] increased influence of the peer group and its values." 
Anorexia nervosa has been increasingly diagnosed since 1950; the increase has been linked to vulnerability and internalization of body ideals. People in professions where there is a particular social pressure to be thin (such as models and dancers) were more likely to develop anorexia,[medical citation needed] and those with anorexia have much higher contact with cultural sources that promote weight loss.[medical citation needed] This trend can also be observed for people who partake in certain sports, such as jockeys and wrestlers. There is a higher incidence and prevalence of anorexia nervosa in sports with an emphasis on aesthetics, where low body fat is advantageous, and sports in which one has to make weight for competition.
- Media effects
Constant exposure to media that presents body ideals may constitute a risk factor for body dissatisfaction and anorexia nervosa. The cultural ideal for body shape for men versus women continues to favor slender women and athletic, V-shaped muscular men. A 2002 review found that the magazines most popular among people aged 18 to 24 years, those read by men, unlike those read by women, were more likely to feature ads and articles on shape than on diet.[unreliable medical source?] Body dissatisfaction and internalization of body ideals are risk factors for anorexia nervosa that threaten the health of both male and female populations.[medical citation needed]
Websites that stress the importance of attainment of body ideals extol and promote anorexia nervosa through the use of religious metaphors, lifestyle descriptions, "thinspiration" or "fitspiration" (inspirational photo galleries and quotes that aim to serve as motivators for attainment of body ideals). Pro-anorexia websites reinforce internalization of body ideals and the importance of their attainment.
- Serotonin dysregulation: brain imaging studies implicate alterations of 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors and the 5-HT transporter. Alterations of these circuits may affect mood and impulse control as well as the motivating and hedonic aspects of feeding behavior. Starvation has been hypothesized to be a response to these effects, as it is known to lower tryptophan and steroid hormone metabolism, which might reduce serotonin levels at these critical sites and ward off anxiety.
- Addiction to the chemicals released in the brain during starving and physical activity: people affected with anorexia often report getting some sort of high from not eating. The effect of food restriction and intense activity causes symptoms similar to anorexia in female rats, though it is not explained why this addiction affects only females.
A diagnostic assessment includes the person's current circumstances, biographical history, current symptoms, and family history. The assessment also includes a mental state examination, which is an assessment of the person's current mood and thought content, focusing on views on weight and patterns of eating.
Anorexia nervosa is classified as an Axis I disorder in the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).
Relative to the previous version of the DSM (DSM-IV-TR) the 2013 revision (DSM5) reflects changes in the criteria for anorexia nervosa, most notably that of the amenorrhea criterion being removed. Amenorrhea was removed for several reasons: it doesn't apply to males, it isn't applicable for females before or after the age of menstruation or taking birth control pills, and some women who meet the other criteria for AN still report some menstrual activity.
- Binge-eating/purging type: the individual utilizes binge eating or displays purging behavior as a means for losing weight. It is different from bulima nervosa in terms of the individual's weight. An individual with binge-eating/purging type anorexia does not maintain a healthy or normal weight but is significantly underweight. People with bulima nervosa on the other hand can sometimes be overweight.
- Restricting type: the individual uses restricting food intake, fasting, diet pills, or exercise as a means for losing weight; they may exercise excessively to keep off weight or prevent weight gain, and some individuals eat only enough to stay alive.
Levels of severity
- Mild: BMI of greater than 17
- Moderate: BMI of 16–16.99
- Severe: BMI of 15–15.99
- Extreme: BMI of less than 15
Medical tests to check for signs of physical deterioration in anorexia nervosa may be performed by a general physician or psychiatrist, including:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): a test of the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets used to assess the presence of various disorders such as leukocytosis, leukopenia, thrombocytosis and anemia which may result from malnutrition.
- Urinalysis: a variety of tests performed on the urine used in the diagnosis of medical disorders, to test for substance abuse, and as an indicator of overall health
- Chem-20: Chem-20 also known as SMA-20 a group of twenty separate chemical tests performed on blood serum. Tests include cholesterol, protein and electrolytes such as potassium, chlorine and sodium and tests specific to liver and kidney function.
- Glucose tolerance test: Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) used to assess the body's ability to metabolize glucose. Can be useful in detecting various disorders such as diabetes, an insulinoma, Cushing's Syndrome, hypoglycemia and polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Serum cholinesterase test: a test of liver enzymes (acetylcholinesterase and pseudocholinesterase) useful as a test of liver function and to assess the effects of malnutrition.
- Liver Function Test: A series of tests used to assess liver function some of the tests are also used in the assessment of malnutrition, protein deficiency, kidney function, bleeding disorders, and Crohn's Disease.
- Lh response to GnRH: Luteinizing hormone (Lh) response to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH): Tests the pituitary glands' response to GnRh a hormone produced in the hypothalamus. Hypogonadism is often seen in anorexia nervosa cases.
- Creatine Kinase Test (CK-Test): measures the circulating blood levels of creatine kinase an enzyme found in the heart (CK-MB), brain (CK-BB) and skeletal muscle (CK-MM).
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test: urea nitrogen is the byproduct of protein metabolism first formed in the liver then removed from the body by the kidneys. The BUN test is primarily used to test kidney function. A low BUN level may indicate the effects of malnutrition.
- BUN-to-creatinine ratio: A BUN to creatinine ratio is used to predict various conditions. A high BUN/creatinine ratio can occur in severe hydration, acute kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and intestinal bleeding. A low BUN/creatinine ratio can indicate a low protein diet, celiac disease, rhabdomyolysis, or cirrhosis of the liver.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): measures electrical activity of the heart. It can be used to detect various disorders such as hyperkalemia
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): measures the electrical activity of the brain. It can be used to detect abnormalities such as those associated with pituitary tumors.
- Thyroid Screen TSH, t4, t3 :test used to assess thyroid functioning by checking levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3)
A variety of medical and psychological conditions have been misdiagnosed as anorexia nervosa; in some cases the correct diagnosis was not made for more than ten years.
The distinction between the diagnoses of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) is often difficult to make as there is considerable overlap between people diagnosed with these conditions. Seemingly minor changes in a people's overall behavior or attitude can change a diagnosis from anorexia: binge-eating type to bulimia nervosa. A main factor differentiating binge-purge anorexia from bulimia is the gap in physical weight. Someone with bulimia nervosa is ordinarily at a healthy weight, or slightly overweight. Someone with binge-purge anorexia is commonly underweight. People with the binge purging subtype of AN may be significantly underweight and typically do not binge eat large amounts of food, yet they purge the small amount of food they eat. In contrast, those with bulimia nervosa, tend to be normal weight or overweight and binge large amounts of food. It is not unusual for a person with an eating disorder to "move through" various diagnoses as their behavior and beliefs change over time.
There is no conclusive evidence that any particular treatment for anorexia nervosa works better than others; however, there is enough evidence to suggest that early intervention and treatment are more effective. Treatment for anorexia nervosa tries to address three main areas.
- Restoring the person to a healthy weight;
- Treating the psychological disorders related to the illness;
- Reducing or eliminating behaviours or thoughts that originally led to the disordered eating.
Although restoring the person's weight is the primary task at hand, optimal treatment also includes and monitors behavioral change in the individual as well.[medical citation needed] Some remedies have little value in resolving anorexia; hospitalization is worse than voluntary treatment.
Diet is the most essential factor to work on in people with anorexia nervosa, and must be tailored to each person's needs. Food variety is important when establishing meal plans as well as foods that are higher in energy density. People must consume adequate calories, starting slowly, and increasing at a measured pace. Evidence of a role for zinc supplementation during refeeding is unclear.
Family-based treatment (FBT) has been shown to be more successful than individual therapy. Various forms of family-based treatment have been proven to work in the treatment of adolescent AN including conjoint family therapy (CFT), in which the parents and child are seen together by the same therapist, and separated family therapy (SFT) in which the parents and child attend therapy separately with different therapists. Proponents of Family therapy for adolescents with AN assert that it is important to include parents in the adolescent's treatment.
A four- to five-year follow up study of the Maudsley family therapy, an evidence-based manualized model, showed full recovery at rates up to 90%. Although this model is recommended by the NIMH, critics claim that it has the potential to create power struggles in an intimate relationship and may disrupt equal partnerships.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is useful in adolescents and adults with anorexia nervosa; acceptance and commitment therapy is a type of CBT, which has shown promise in the treatment of AN. Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) is used in treating anorexia nervosa.
Pharmaceuticals have limited benefit for anorexia itself.
AN has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder. The mortality rate is 11 to 12 times higher than expected, and the suicide risk is 56 times higher; half of women with AN achieve a full recovery, while an additional 20–30% may partially recover. Not all people with anorexia recover completely: about 20% develop anorexia nervosa as a chronic disorder. If anorexia nervosa is not treated, serious complications such as heart conditions and kidney failure can arise and eventually lead to death. The average number of years from onset to remission of AN is seven for women and three for men. After ten to fifteen years, 70% of people no longer meet the diagnostic criteria, but many still continue to have eating-related problems.
Alexithymia has an impact on treatment outcome. Recovery is also viewed on a spectrum rather than black and white. According to the Morgan-Russell criteria people can have a good, intermediate, or poor outcome. Even when a person is classified as having a "good" outcome, weight only has to be within 15% of average and normal menstruation must be present in females. The good outcome also excludes psychological health. Recovery for people with anorexia nervosa is undeniably positive, but recovery does not mean a return to normal.[medical citation needed]
Anorexia nervosa can have serious implications if its duration and severity are significant and if onset occurs before the completion of growth, pubertal maturation, or the attainment of peak bone mass.[medical citation needed] Complications specific to adolescents and children with anorexia nervosa can include the following:
- Growth retardation – height gain may slow and can stop completely with severe weight loss or chronic malnutrition. In such cases, provided that growth potential is preserved, height increase can resume and reach full potential after normal intake is resumed.[medical citation needed] Height potential is normally preserved if the duration and severity of illness are not significant or if the illness is accompanied with delayed bone age (especially prior to a bone age of approximately 15 years), as hypogonadism may negate the deleterious effects of undernutrition on stature by allowing for a longer duration of growth compared to controls.[medical citation needed] In such cases, appropriate early treatment can preserve height potential and may even help to increase it in some post-anorexic subjects due to the aforementioned reasons in addition to factors such as long-term reduced estrogen-producing adipose tissue levels compared to premorbid levels.[medical citation needed]
- Pubertal delay or arrest – both height gain and pubertal development are dependent on the release of growth hormone and gonadotrophins (LH and FSH) from the pituitary gland. Suppression of gonadotrophins in people with anorexia nervosa has frequently been documented.[medical citation needed] In some cases, especially where onset is pre-pubertal, physical consequences such as stunted growth and pubertal delay are usually fully reversible.
- Reduction of Peak Bone Mass – bone accretion is the highest during adolescence, and if onset of anorexia nervosa occurs during this time and stalls puberty, bone mass may remain low.[medical citation needed]
- Hepatic steatosis – fatty infiltration of the liver is an indicator of malnutrition in children.
- Heart disease and arrythmias
- Neurological disorders – seizures, tremors
Relapse occurs in approximately a third of people in hospital, and is greatest in the first half-year to year-and-a-half after release from an institutions.
Anorexia is estimated to occur in 0.9% to 4.3% of women and 0.2% to 0.3% of men in Western countries at some point in their life. About 0.4% of young females are affected in a given year and it is estimate to occur three to ten times less commonly in males. Rates in most of the developing world are unclear. Often it begins during the teen years or young adulthood.
While anorexia become more commonly diagnosed during the 20th century it is unclear if this was due to an increase in its frequency or simply better diagnosis. Most studies show that since at least 1970 the incidence of AN in adult women is fairly constant, while there is some indication that the incidence may have been increasing for girls aged between 14 and 20.
Eating disorders are less reported in preindustrial, non-westernized countries than in Western countries. In Africa, not including South Africa, the only data presenting information about eating disorders occurs in case reports and isolated studies, not studies investigating prevalence. Data shows in research that in westernized civilizations, ethnic minorities have very similar rates of eating disorders, contrary to the belief that eating disorders predominantly occur in Caucasian people.[medical citation needed]
Due to different standards of beauty for men and women, men are often not diagnosed as anorexic. Generally men who alter their bodies do so to be lean and muscular rather than thin. In addition, men who might otherwise be diagnosed with anorexia may not meet the DSM IV criteria for BMI since they have muscle weight, but have very little fat. Men and women athletes are often overlooked as anorexic. Research emphasizes the importance to take athletes' diet, weight and symptoms into account when diagnosing anorexia, instead of just looking at weight and BMI. For athletes, ritualized activities such as weigh-ins place emphasis on weight, which may promote the development of eating disorders among them. While women use diet pills, which is an indicator of unhealthy behavior and an eating disorder, men use steroids, which contextualizes the beauty ideals for genders. This also shows men having a preoccupation with their body, which is an indicator of an eating disorder. In a Canadian study, 4% of boys in grade nine used anabolic steroids. Anorexic men are sometimes referred to as manorexic.
The term anorexia nervosa was coined in 1873 by Sir William Gull, one of Queen Victoria's personal physicians. The term is of Greek origin: an- (ἀν-, prefix denoting negation) and orexis (ὄρεξις, "appetite"), translating literally to a nervous loss of appetite.
The history of anorexia nervosa begins with descriptions of religious fasting dating from the Hellenistic era and continuing into the medieval period. The medieval practice of self-starvation by women, including some young women, in the name of religious piety and purity also concerns anorexia nervosa; it is sometimes referred to as anorexia mirabilis.
The earliest medical descriptions of anorexic illnesses are generally credited to English physician Richard Morton in 1689. Case descriptions fitting anorexic illnesses continued throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
In the late 19th century anorexia nervosa became widely accepted by the medical profession as a recognized condition. In 1873, Sir William Gull, one of Queen Victoria's personal physicians, published a seminal paper which coined the term anorexia nervosa and provided a number of detailed case descriptions and treatments. In the same year, French physician Ernest-Charles Lasègue similarly published details of a number of cases in a paper entitled De l'Anorexie Histerique.
Awareness of the condition was largely limited to the medical profession until the latter part of the 20th century, when German-American psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch published The Golden Cage: the Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa in 1978. Despite major advances in neuroscience, Bruch's theories tend to dominate popular thinking. A further important event was the death of the popular singer and drummer Karen Carpenter in 1983, which prompted widespread ongoing media coverage of eating disorders.
- List of people with anorexia nervosa
- Eating Recovery
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- Orthorexia nervosa
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- Anorexia nervosa
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