Anorexia (symptom)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
SpecialtyFamily medicine, Internal medicine
SymptomsNot wanting to eat, no hunger, dizziness, weakness

Anorexia is a medical term for a loss of appetite. While the term outside of the scientific literature is often used interchangeably with anorexia nervosa, many possible causes exist for a loss of appetite, some of which may be harmless, while others indicate a serious clinical condition or pose a significant risk.

Anorexia is a symptom, not a diagnosis. Anorexia is not to be confused with the mental health disorder anorexia nervosa. Because the term 'anorexia' is often used as a short-form of anorexia nervosa, to avoid confusion a provider must clarify to a patient whether they are simply referring to a decreased appetite or the mental health disorder. Anyone can manifest anorexia as a loss of appetite, regardless of their sex, age, or weight.

The symptom also occurs in other animals, such as cats,[1][2] dogs,[3][4] cattle, goats, and sheep.[5] In these species, anorexia may be referred to as inappetence. As in humans, loss of appetite can be due to a range of diseases and conditions, as well as environmental and psychological factors.[2][4]


The term is from Ancient Greek: ανορεξία (ἀν-, 'without' + όρεξις, spelled órexis, meaning 'appetite').[6]

Common manifestations[edit]

Anorexia simply manifests as a decreased or loss of appetite. This can present as not feeling hungry or lacking the desire to eat.[7] Sometimes people do not even notice they lack an appetite until they begin to lose weight from eating less. In other cases, it can be more noticeable, such as when a person becomes nauseated from just the thought of eating. Any form of decreased appetite that leads to changes in the body (such as weight loss or muscle loss) that is not done intentionally as part of dieting is clinically significant.[8]

Physiology of anorexia[edit]

Appetite stimulation and suppression is a complex process involving many different parts of the brain and body by the use of various hormones and signals. Appetite is thought to be stimulated by interplay between peripheral signals to the brain (taste, smell, sight, gut hormones) as well as the balance of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in the hypothalamus.[8] Examples of these signals or hormones include neuropeptide Y, leptin, ghrelin, insulin, serotonin, and orexins (also called hypocretins). Anything that causes an imbalance of these signals or hormones can lead to the symptom of anorexia. While it is known that these signals and hormones help control appetite, the complicated mechanisms regarding a pathological increase or decrease in appetite are still being explored.[8]

Common causes[edit]




Complications of anorexia may result due to poor food intake. Poor food intake can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, anemia and nutritional deficiencies. These imbalances will worsen the longer that food is avoided.[8]

Sudden cardiac death[edit]

Anorexia is a relatively common condition that can lead patients to have dangerous electrolyte imbalances, leading to acquired long QT syndrome which can result in sudden cardiac death. This can develop over a prolonged period of time, and the risk is further heightened when feeding resumes after a period of abstaining from consumption.[19]

Refeeding syndrome[edit]

Care must be taken when a patient begins to eat after prolonged starvation to avoid the potentially fatal complications of refeeding syndrome. The initial signs of refeeding syndrome are minimal, but can rapidly progress to death. Thus, the reinitiation of food or oral intake is usually started slowly and requires close observation under supervision by trained healthcare professionals. This is usually done in a hospital or nutritional rehabilitation center.[19]


Anorexia can be treated with the help of orexigenic drugs.[20][21]

"Anorexia" vs "anorexic" vs anorexia nervosa[edit]

Anorexic can be a description of somebody with the stereotypical thin, frail, malnourished appearance. The appearance is classically associated with anorexia, although in rare cases do patients end up becoming anorexic in appearance. An anorexic or anorectic is also a description given to substances that cause anorexia for weight loss purposes.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by food restriction due to the strong desire to remain thin. It is considered a mental health diagnosis where people see themselves as obese regardless of their weight or appearance.[22] The person does not necessarily exhibit anorexia as a symptom in their quest to restrict food intake.[22]


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