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Many people suffer from the condition known as anorexia nervosa. Often the victims go through a number of symptoms that can lead to a serious amount of problems concerning a personís weight, happiness, and personality. People should keep a close eye out for anyone who shows signs of certain symptoms that become present later on in the future.
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
In medicine, Anorexia Nervosa is a condition characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming obese, along with a distorted body image, which leads to excessive weight loss from restricting food intake and exercising excessively. It is essentially self-starvation leading to a loss of body weight 15% below normal, accompanied with hyperactivity, hypothermia, and amenorrhea. Between 5 and 18 percent of known anorexia nervosa victims die of starvation, and the condition may also lead to abnormalities in the menstrual cycle and increased susceptibility to infection. (Bruch, 53)
Anorexia is an illness of several causes. The weight loss that triggers the illness is often the result of either a normal diet (the sort that is typical of many normal adolescent girls) or unhappiness or illness. The personalities of those with the illness tend to be conformist, compliant, and hard working. These traits are usually accentuated by the disorder. The families of anorexics are mainly high achieving with high expectations of their children. They often seem to discourage individual growth and encourage conformity. There is frequently a failure to express emotional issues. There are often a lot of pressures such as exams when the illness starts and stresses arising from difficulties in relationships with friends are also common. (Claude-Pierre, 102)
How does it develop?
Perfectionist parents drive their children to be the best and the brightest. These parents fixate on order, prestige, power and/or perfect appearances. Depriving parents withhold attention and encouragement from their children. They love conditionally, giving affection when a child pleases them and withdrawing it when displeased.
What are some signs?
Anorexia may not be noticed in the early stages because it often starts as an innocent diet. In the later and more dangerous stages, family members may not notice the disease because the anorexic usually wears layered and baggy clothes (Costin, 138). However, there are many warning signs that a person is developing anorexia. An obsession with diet and exercise are two early signs that a person is becoming anorexic. This can include difficulty eating in public places or in front of others, secrecy about eating patterns and food intake, and excessive exercise despite visible weight loss. A pre- occupation with weight and body image develops, and the anorexic will frequently check their weight on a scale or examine their body in a mirror. Other warning signs include disturbed sleep, hyperactivity, irritability, social withdrawal, depression, sensitivity to cold temperature, and fainting spells. (Claude-Pierre, 202)
What problems arise from it?
The human body copes with periods of semi-starvation and weight loss fairly well. However, rapid weight loss, the use of vomiting or laxatives to promote weight loss, and the loss of more than 35% of normal body weight are all associated with danger. Prolonged weight loss during adolescence may eventually lead to permanent failure of normal growth and an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life. In extreme cases anorexia can lead to cardiac arrest and death, and it is estimated that up to 10% of known anorexics die from complications due to the illness. (Bruch, 147)
Other physical problems associated with anorexia are dehydration, stomach pain, constipation, dry skin, decreased heart and metabolic rates, lowered body temperature, dizziness, fatigue, sleeping problems, headaches, cold hands and feet, and abnormalities of the menstruation cycle. (Costin, 167)
What kinds of treatment are there?
No generally recognized treatment or therapy for anorexia nervosa exists. Regaining normal weight with a normal eating pattern is the first step of treatment and when the illness is severe this may require admission to hospital. Psychotherapy, regular medical monitoring, and nutritional guidance should be part of any treatment program for anorexia. The goals are to restore weight to correct the effects of malnutrition, to control abnormal eating behavior and to prevent recurrence by addressing the associated psychological and family issues. Close cooperation among all medical, nutritional and psychological health professionals involved is important. All these professionals should be experienced specifically in treating eating disorders. The return to normal eating unmasks the underlying psychological issues enabling these to be explored. The illness is often associated with depression and low self-esteem, and patients may benefit from treatment with antidepressant drugs. Self-talk is one thing to help the patient. To maintain positive self-talk, fill your mind with uplifting ideas. Recognize your strengths. Comfort yourself when things go wrong. Let your self-talk be like the soothing, supportive words of a counselor, friend, or mentor. As you improve your self-talk, commit to changing your actions accordingly. Lasting accomplishments come when we change our behaviors as well as our thinking. (Bruch, 150)
The patient will need to begin to lead a normal life again and when confidence is very low this can be a slow process. Inpatient treatment will often last for 12 to16 weeks and full recovery will often take a further 18 months. About half of known anorexia cases resolve themselves without relapses (Claude-Pierre, 263). Because many persons with anorexia nervosa never seek medical treatment, the exact prevalence of the condition is unknown. Studies indicate that it may develop in as many as 1% of the young women in the United States. (Bruch, 158)
Many times anorexia will develop and go unnoticed because family members, friends and others close to the anorexic simply do not observe the warning signs, or refuse to believe that the person is anorexic. One must be prepared for resistance in the approach of a suspected anorexic, but it's far worse to leave the problem alone.
Hornbacher, Marya. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. Chicago: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. January 1999.
Claude-Pierre, Peggy. The Secret Language of Eating Disorders. California: Random House Inc. January 1997.
Bruch, Hilde. The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa. Oregon: Vintage Books. April 1979.
Costin, Carolyn. The Eating Disorder Source Book. New York: Lowell House. January 1999.
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