People with Anorexia Nervosa see themselves as overweight even
though they are dangerously thin. The process of eating becomes an
obsession. Unusual eating habits develop, such as avoiding food and
meals, picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities,
or carefully weighing and portioning food. People with anorexia may
repeatedly check their body weight, and many engage in other
techniques to control their weight, such as intense and compulsive
exercise, or purging by means of vomiting and abuse of laxatives,
enemas, and diuretics. Girls with anorexia often experience a
delayed onset of their first menstrual period.
The course and outcome of anorexia nervosa vary across individuals: some fully recover after a single episode; some have a
fluctuating pattern of weight gain and relapse; and others experience a chronically deteriorating course of illness over many years.
The mortality rate among people with anorexia has been estimated at 0.56 percent per year, or approximately 5.6 percent per decade, which is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15-24 in the general population.
The most common causes of death are complications of the
disorder, such as cardiac arrest or electrolyte imbalance, and suicide.
An estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
- Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
- Infrequent or absent menstrual periods (in females who have reached puberty)
(source: NIH Publication 01-4901, 2001)