Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person has an overwhelming desire to lose weight and refuses to gain a healthy weight. In order to reach their goal, those persons either fast (sometimes to the point of starvation) or they exercise excessively. Anorexia is also considered a mental illness, since it involves an altered perception of self. It can be difficult to treat, especially because it is not unusual for the person with anorexia to refuse treatment, but in time and with dedication it can be overcome.
It is not completely clear what exactly causes anorexia, but most experts agree that it is a result of a combination of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. Anorexia may lead to many complications, and even to death. Death may occur suddenly, as a consequence of electrolytes imbalance or arrhythmias.
Possible complications include anemia, heart problems like arrhythmia, mitral valve prolapsed and heart failure, osteoporosis and risk of osteoporosis later in life, amenorrhea (loss of period), decreased testosterone, constipation, nausea, vomiting, bloating, electrolyte imbalance, such as low levels of potassium, chloride and sodium, and kidney problems.
Malnutrition that is often present in anorexic persons can lead to damage in one or more organs, some of which may not recover completely. Anorexia may lead or be associated with other mental disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, personality disorders and drug abuse.
Treatment of anorexia usually includes both medical and psychiatric care. In some cases, a patient is in such a bad shape that she or he needs to be admitted in a hospital, where the body functions are closely monitored. The first thing to do is to regain a healthy weight. A nutritionist usually prescribes a specific diet that has to be maintained over a certain period of time. Help and support of friends and family is important for the patient.
Psychotherapy is another important element of the anorexia treatment. It may be in form of individual, group or family therapy. In some cases, antidepressants may be prescribed to help with the psychological issues that come with anorexia. The success of the anorexia treatment depends largely on the severity of the case. Milder cases require shorter period of therapy and recovery, while more sever ones may take a long time. The biggest challenge is that some people refuse treatment, as they do not believe to be ill or that their weight is abnormal.
Unfortunately, anorexia requires a permanent, lifelong battle. There is always the risk it may come back. In these cases, an ongoing therapy or periodic sessions during stress periods is important for preventing a relapse.