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Anorexia is an eating disorder. It occurs when a person’s obsession with diet and exercise leads to extreme weight loss. Sometimes laxatives, diuretics, or self-induced vomiting will be used to lose weight. The disorder is considered if a person refuses to maintain a body weight at or above 85% of their ideal body weight. Anorexia can be fatal.


The cause of anorexia is not known. It appears to be a combination of genetics, culture, and environment.

Risk Factors

Anorexia is more common in women. Factors that increase your risk for anorexia include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive fear of becoming overweight
  • Pressure to be thin
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Emotional stress
  • Mood disorders, such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder
  • Personality disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Influenced by social and fashion trends emphasizing or glamorizing thinness


Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive weight loss
  • Obsession with food, calories, and fat content
  • Dieting even when thin
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight
  • Body dysmorphia—distorted self-image of being overweight despite evidence of the opposite
  • Basing self-evaluation heavily on body weight or shape
  • Loss of menstrual periods
  • Excessive exercising
  • Feeling cold, especially hands and feet
  • Being secretive about food
  • Hair loss and/or growth of fine hair on the body
  • Fainting or severe light-headedness
  • Constipation
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations

Anorexia often leads to a number of serious medical problems including:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Cardiac problems, which can be fatal if an arrhythmia develops
Body Dysmorphia
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You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and psychological evaluation will be done.

Other tests may include:

  • Blood tests to look for chemical imbalances
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)—to check your heart’s electrical activity
  • Bone density tests


The goal of treatment is to return to and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight is above 85% of your ideal weight. To achieve this, the intake of calories is gradually increased. This can be accomplished through a number of interventions, including the following:


There are no current guidelines to prevent anorexia. Early detection and treatment is the best option.


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