Anorexic people suffer from the mistaken idea that they are overweight when in reality they are dangerously thin. People with anorexia restrict food and may exercise excessively so that they lose weight. They may also abuse diet pills and/or laxatives. They do not eat enough calories to support normal body functioning.
Signs of Anorexia
While anyone can get anorexia, most anorexic people are women. Only about 10% of anorexics are male. Anorexia is usually diagnosed in a person’s teens or twenties, though it can be diagnosed in younger or older people.
Signs of anorexia include the following:
- Lying about how much they eat
- Not eating in public
- Pretending to eat
- Obsessing about food
- Using diet pills on a regular basis
- Being obsessed with weight and appearance
- Lying about one’s weight or insisting they are fat even when they are actually severely underweight
- Wearing bulky clothing to disguise their weight
- Severe weight loss
- Depression or moodiness
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Exercising excessively and/or compulsively
- Vomiting after eating
- Using laxatives on a regular basis
It can be difficult to detect the signs of anorexia in a person because people with the condition are usually very secretive about it. This even makes it difficult to gather accurate statistics about the disorder.
Medical Complications of Anorexia
People with anorexia are at risk for a number of health problems, including:
- Dizziness and fainting
- Weakness and fatigue
- Low levels of potassium and magnesium in the body, which can lead to heart problems
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Brachycardia (slow heart beat)
- Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm)
- Weakened heart muscle
- Increased risk of heart failure
- Gastro-intestinal problems such as constipation, bloating, ulcers, and stomach pain
- Risk of kidney failure
- Liver disease
- Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass, leading to brittle bones that break easily)
- Skin disorders
- If untreated, anorexia can result in death
Some of these medical conditions are reversible with treatment, but others are not. There can be lasting medical problems even after treatment.
Treating People with Anorexia
Without treatment, up to 20% of all anorexic people die. With treatment, however, the prognosis is much better. Still, only about 60% of all people with anorexia make a full recovery. Twenty-percent make a partial recovery and are able to hold a job and maintain some superficial relationships but remain very focused on food and weight. They may continue to abuse diet pills or laxatives. They continue to remain underweight. The remaining 20% stay dangerously underweight. They are seen frequently in emergency rooms, mental health clinics, inpatient hospital units, and eating disorder treatment programs.
Treatment for anorexic people must begin with medical treatment. Any heart problems, chemical imbalances, or other health problems must be addressed. Inpatient hospitalization is often required.
A dietician will work with anorexic people to develop a healthy eating plan and to provide education about healthy eating. Education will be provided about the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Realistic goals will be set for gaining weight.
Psychological treatment is also necessary for people with anorexia. Without psychological treatment, medical treatment alone is unlikely to be successful. Mental health treatment is geared at addressing the issues leading to the eating disorder and teaching new coping skills. Inpatient mental health treatment is often necessary, at least at the beginning of treatment. Altogether, treatment is usually recommended for six months or more.
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