Anorexia nervosa is a psychological eating disorder in which a person refuses to eat adequately--in spite of hunger -- and loses enough weight to become emaciated. The illness usually begins with a normal weight-loss diet. The person eats very little, and refuses to stop dieting after a reasonable weight loss. Anorexia nervosa usually affects female adolescents.
Appropriate health care includes:
Physician's monitoring of general condition and medications.
Psychotherapy or counseling for the patient and family.
Hospitalization during crises for intravenous or tube feeding.
Psychiatric hospitalization (sometimes) for at least 2 to 3 weeks. May require many months, up to 2 years.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMSWeight loss of at least 25% of body weight without physical illness.
High energy level despite body wasting.
Intense fear of obesity.
Loss of appetite.
Intolerance of cold temperature.
Refusal to maintain a minimum standard weight for age and height.
Distorted body image. The person continues to feel fat--even when emaciated.
Cessation of menstrual periods.
Unknown. However, all people have family and internal conflicts to some degree, including sexual conflicts.
RISK FACTORSPeer pressure to be thin.
History of slight overweight.
Perfectionistic, compulsive, or overachieving personalities.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCEEncourage your child to confront personal problems realistically. Try to correct or cope with problems with the help of counselors, therapists, family, and friends. See Appendix 19 for suggestions to reduce stress.
Your own observation of symptoms.
Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
Laboratory blood tests for anemia and electrolyte imbalance.
Chronic anorexia nervosa caused by the patient's resistance to treatment.
Electrolyte disturbances or irregular heartbeat. These may be life-threatening to your child.
Curable if the child recognizes the emotional disturbance, wants help and cooperates in treatment. Without treatment, anorexia nervosa can cause permanent disability and death. Persons with anorexia nervosa have a high rate of attempted suicide due to low self-esteem.
HOME CAREThe goal of treatment is for the child to establish healthy eating patterns to regain normal weight. The patient can accomplish this with behavior-modification training supervised by a qualified professional.
MEDICATIONMedicine usually is not necessary for this disorder.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
No restrictions, but your child should avoid overexertion.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet. Your doctor may prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements for your child.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?When appetite returns, and alertness, strength, and feeling of well-being will allow.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your child has symptoms of anorexia nervosa.
Life-threatening symptoms occur, including rapid irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or loss of consciousness. Call immediately. This is an emergency!
Weight loss continues, despite treatment.