Amy Scholten, MPH
Anorexia is an
eating disorder. It occurs when a person's obsession with diet and exercise leads to extreme weight loss. Sometimes laxatives, diuretics, or self-induced vomiting will be used to lose weight. The disorder is considered if a person refuses to maintain a body weight at or above 85% of their ideal body weight. Anorexia can be fatal.
The cause of anorexia is not known. It appears to be a combination of genetics, culture, and environment.
Anorexia is more common in women. Factors that increase your risk for anorexia include:
Symptoms may include:
Anorexia often leads to a number of serious medical problems including:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and psychological evaluation will be done.
Other tests may include:
The goal of treatment is to return to and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight is above 85% of your ideal weight. To achieve this, the intake of calories is gradually increased. This can be accomplished through a number of interventions, including the following:
A dietitian may be consulted to help you learn more about the components of a healthy diet. The dietitian will also talk to you about reasonable weight and calorie goals.
Therapy can help address harmful thought patterns, improve eating behavior, and increase self-esteem. There are many different types of therapy. Work with your doctor and therapists to determine which therapy may be best for you. You may use more than 1 therapy or try different therapies before you find one that works best for you. Some therapy options include:
In some cases, people with anorexia benefit from a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. In particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
are used. Used alone, antidepressant therapy is not an effective treatment for anorexia.
Medications and supplements may include:
Hospitalization may be necessary if:
There are no current guidelines to prevent anorexia. Early detection and treatment is the best option.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
National Eating Disorder Information Center
Anorexia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114614/Anorexia-nervosa. Updated November 19, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Anorexia nervosa fact sheet.
Office on Women's Health website. Available at:
Updated July 16, 2012. Accessed May 3, 2016.
Casper RC. How useful are pharmacological treatments in eating disorders?
Psychopharmacol Bull. 2002;36(2):88-104.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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