Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person severely limits his or her food intake, has a distorted body image, refuses to maintain a normal body weight, and is intensely afraid of gaining weight despite being very underweight. Long-term or severe anorexia can lead to serious health problems and even death.

Symptoms or characteristics of anorexia include:

  • Weighing less than 85% of expected body weight or failure to make appropriate weight gain for a period of growth.
  • Stopping or never getting a monthly menstrual period.
  • Overexercising.
  • Secrecy around food and denial of a problem with eating.

The cause of anorexia is not known, although certain personality traits (such as perfectionism) and a family history of eating disorders may contribute. Anorexia is more frequently found in athletes or people in professions or sports that require a certain body type, such as modeling, ballet, theater, or wrestling. Anorexia affects mostly teenage girls and young women. It can develop in boys, young men, and adult women.

Anorexia can become a lifelong illness, although it is possible to fully recover with proper treatment.

Last Updated: September 16, 2009

Author: Jeannette Curtis

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & W. Stewart Agras, MD - Psychiatry

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