Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by emaciation – extreme, dangerous thinness – that results from abnormal eating habits. Individuals suffering from anorexia have a distorted body image and incorrectly view themselves as overweight. They may express an intense fear of gaining weight and often restrict their eating, exercise compulsively and are obsessed with calories and weight control. While anorexia affects both genders, women and girls account for approximately 90% of eating disorder cases. Anorexia can develop at any time, but most frequently surfaces during adolescence or young adulthood. Anorexia is a treatable medical condition whose causes are complex, appearing to include both psychological and biological factors.
There is no one precise cause for anorexia, but some people may be more susceptible to developing it than others. Certain personality traits are common among people with anorexia, and certain types of life situations are known to sometimes precipitate anorexia. Psychological factors related to anorexia include perfectionism, low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness and extreme dissatisfaction with appearance. Situational factors related to anorexia include teasing about weight or appearance, participation in sports that emphasize a certain body image, such as gymnastics or ballet and trauma, such as abuse and rape.
Anorexia nervosa has severe physical consequences and is associated with one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder. The most common medical complications that can result in death are cardiac arrest and electrolyte and fluid imbalances associated with kidney failure. Treatment for anorexia has both psychological and medical aspects and commonly involves multiple professionals. There are a variety of approaches, but all involve three main components: achieving a healthy weight, addressing underlying psychological issues and reducing/eliminating destructive thoughts and behaviors.