Anorexia is a serious illness which can have far reaching effects on the affected person. Anorexia is most common in teenage girls; however, males and other age groups can develop it. Learn what the illness is, what causes it, warning signs and symptoms as well as treatments.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by obsession with weight. People with this condition often starve themselves or exercise in excess to lose weight or maintain a weight that is far below what is considered healthy for a person of the patient’s height and age. This disorder is not really about food; it is a faulty way of coping with emotions and stress. The anorexic person equates self-worth very directly with being thin.

Risk Factors for Anorexia

Being female is a big risk factor in anorexia because the disorder most often strikes girls and women. However, there have been increasing numbers of boys and men becoming afflicted. This may to due to pressure placed on young boys and men about physical appearance by society. Age is also a risk factor for this disease as it is most often found in teenagers. Although anorexia can affect any age group, it is rare in people over 40.

Genetics is another risk factor involved in anorexia. Researchers have found an area on chromosome one that is seemingly linked to being at higher risk for anorexia. Anorexia also tends to run in families. Weight changes are yet another risk factor because comments about a person’s weight, whether positive or negative, can trigger a person to start extreme dieting. Changes such as moves, job changes, breakups and the like can increase a person’s risk level due to emotional distress.

Athletes and other high profile professionals such as actors are at higher risk for anorexia. This is because whether right or wrong, these individuals often perceive being very thin as giving them an edge in their career. Media portrayals that equate success with being thin may also contribute to cases of anorexia.

Causes of Anorexia

A combination of factors causes anorexia in people. Biology is just one of the causes. If a person, especially a woman, has a mother or sister who has or had an eating disorder, they are more likely to develop it as well. Studies involving twins also support this theory.

Psychological factors may cause it as well. For example, someone who suffers from low self worth is more likely to be anorexic. Also it seems people with obsessive compulsive tendencies become anorexic more easily. Peer pressure may be a cause in some cases.

Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexics display both physical and behavioral or emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms include: extreme weight loss, thin appearance, abnormal blood counts, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, fainting, discolored fingers, brittle nails, hair breaking, thinning, or falling out, soft hair covering the body, and in women, lack of menstruation. There are many more physical signs as well.

Emotional and behavioral symptoms of the condition include: refusal to eat, denying hunger, exercising excessively, lack of emotion, antisocial behavior, being preoccupied with food, reduction of interest in sex and depressed mood. Things to look for are the person skipping meals or making excuses for not eating. Someone with anorexia may eat only certain foods which are low in fat or adopt rituals when eating. They may cook meals for others but not eat or avoid eating in public.

Treatment of Anorexia

Treatment of anorexia involves medical care including checking of vital signs and electrolytes. Some severely anorexic patients require a feeding tube. Getting back to a healthy weight is the first goal in treating the illness. Therapy is also used to help the patient deal with the behaviors and thoughts associated with the disease. Family-based therapy helps family members help the patient. Medications are not effective in treating the eating disorder but may help with depression and anxiety. Hospitalization may be needed due to medical complications. This disorder is treatable with a good support system and medical care.