Anorexia Nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders. Someone suffering from anorexia will try to lose a dangerous amount of weight and if left unchecked this condition can lead to starvation or even death. Around 90% of people with an eating disorder are young women however it can affect people of all ages and in recent years has become more common amongst young men. So what is anorexia?

Anorexia has many symptoms both physical and psychological. The most common physical symptom of anorexia is the refusal to maintain even a minimally normal body weight. This can lead to stunted growth (including slowing the growth of breasts in adolescent females), zinc deficiency, a reduction in white blood cells and constipation. Poor circulation can lead to frequent attacks of ‘pins and needles’ and skin being easily bruised. Acid damage from vomiting and malnutrition can cause tooth decay, gum damage and can even cause problems in the esophagus.

Sufferers of anorexia often experience an intense fear of gaining weight and despite sometimes being dangerously thin they can experience a distorted view of their own body-weight. They may deny the seriousness of their condition and can become defensive when confronted about it. Sufferers will have obsessive thoughts about their weight and food, and may show signs of other obsessive disorders. People with anorexia frequently have low self esteem and can often experience mood swings and even clinical depression.

Research has shown that anorexia has no single cause. Instead the condition stems from a combination of social, psychological and biological factors. From a heritability standpoint research has shown that genetic factors can contribute to the chances of developing anorexia. Similarly research has found a strong correlation between the neruotransmitter serotonin and several psychological symptoms, including appetite. And as such an imbalanced serotonin system may also be linked to the condition. From a psychological perspective the behaviours of anorexia are thought to stem from feelings of being fat or unattractive. Such thoughts can greatly alter the way a sufferer thinks about their body, their weight and eating.

The first treatment for anorexia is usually focused on gaining weight quickly, especially in serious cases which require hospitalisation. In most cases people with anorexia are treated as outpatients consulting with both physicians and psychiatrists or other mental health professionals. Research has found that drug treatments or antidepressant medication are not generally effective at treating anorexia however it’s common for antidepressants to be prescribed to treat the depression or anxiety associated with the disorder. People with anorexia are often recommended to take zinc supplements, which will result in an increased appetite.