Anorexia (an-o-REK-see-uh) nervosa — often simply called anorexia — is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of body weight. People with anorexia place a high value on controlling their weight and shape, using extreme efforts that tend to significantly interfere with activities in their lives.
To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia usually severely restrict the amount of food they eat. They may control calorie intake by vomiting after eating or by misusing laxatives, diet aids, diuretics or enemas. They may also try to lose weight by exercising excessively.
Some people with anorexia binge and purge, similar to individuals who have bulimia nervosa. However, people with anorexia generally struggle with an abnormally low body weight, while individuals with bulimia typically are normal to above normal weight. No matter how weight loss is achieved, the person with anorexia has an intense fear of gaining weight.
Anorexia isn’t really about food. It’s an unhealthy way to try to cope with emotional problems. When you have anorexia, you often equate thinness with self-worth.
Anorexia can be very difficult to overcome. But with treatment, you can gain a better sense of who you are, return to healthier eating habits and reverse some of anorexia’s serious complications.
The physical signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa are related to starvation, but the disorder also includes emotional and behavior issues related to an unrealistic perception of body weight and an extremely strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
Physical signs and symptoms of anorexia may include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Thin appearance
- Abnormal blood counts
- Dizziness or fainting
- Bluish discoloration of the fingers
- Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
- Soft, downy hair covering the body
- Absence of menstruation
- Dry or yellowish skin
- Intolerance of cold
- Irregular heart rhythms
- Low blood pressure
- Swelling of arms or legs