Anorexia Nervosa- Causes, Symptoms And Treatment


In addition to being an eating disorder, anorexia is a serious mental illness.

Anorexics engage in undereating, excessive exercise, or a combination of the two in an effort to maintain the lowest weight attainable. They start to grow hungry, which could make them very ill.

They frequently have an inaccurate perception of their body, believing they are overweight even when they are underweight.

Anorexia can affect both men and women of any age, but it most frequently affects young women and usually begins in the middle of adolescence.


The precise cause of anorexia is unknown. It is likely a result of a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental variables, as is the case with many disorders.

Biological variables indicate that the genes that are involved are still unknown. Although a family member may have a history of depression, eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, some people may be more susceptible to developing anorexia due to genetic abnormalities. Perfectionism, sensitivity, and perseverance are all traits connected to anorexia and may be genetically predisposed in some people. Some people may have anxiety or have a low self- esteem. 

Psychological reasons that contribute to understanding the cause of anorexia are obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it simpler for them to maintain stringent diets and refrain from eating even when they are ravenous. They might have a strong need for perfection and feel insufficiently skinny as a result. Additionally, they could experience high levels of worry and practice restrictive eating to lessen it.  Some people may have been criticized for their eating habits, body shape or weight. 

In terms of the environmental variables, in contemporary Western culture, thinness is valued. Being thin is commonly linked to worth and success. The pressure from peers, particularly among young girls, may play a role in the desire to be thin. Other pressures, such as those from society or your job, may also contribute to this.

Risk Factors

Anorexia is made more likely by a few circumstances, including: 

Gender as girls and women are more likely to develop anorexia. However, eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in boys and men, maybe as a result of mounting social pressure.

Age is another indicator as teenagers are also more likely to have anorexia. Although it is uncommon in persons over 40, this eating problem can still occur in people of any age. Teenagers may be particularly susceptible because of all the changes their bodies go through during puberty. They might also be more susceptible to peer pressure, criticism, and even innocent comments regarding their weight or body type.

In addition to this, particular people may be more susceptible to anorexia due to changes in certain genes. People who have a first-degree family with the condition, such as a parent, sibling, or kid, are substantially more at an increased risk of anorexia.

Another indicator is starvation and dieting culture. An eating disorder can arise as a result of dieting. Numerous anorexia symptoms may actually be indicators of malnutrition, according to scientific research. The brain is impacted by starvation, which results in mood swings, inflexible thinking, anxiety, and decreased appetite. In those who are more susceptible, starvation and weight loss may alter how the brain functions, which could prolong restrictive eating patterns and make it challenging to resume regular eating habits. 

Another circumstance that makes anorexia nervosa more likely are transitional periods. Change can cause mental stress and raise the risk of anorexia, whether it is a new school, house, or job; the end of a relationship; or the illness or death of a loved one.


There are physical and emotional signs to indicate that a person has anorexia nervosa. 

Physical symptoms and signs include:

  • If you are over 18, your weight and height are below average for your age. If you are over 18, your body mass index is extremely low (BMI).
  • Starvation is a key factor in the anorexia nervosa physical signs and symptoms. Along with mental and behavioural problems, an erroneous assessment of body weight and a crippling dread of putting on weight or getting obese are also symptoms. 
  • As what is considered a low body weight varies from person to person and some people may not appear exceedingly thin, it may be challenging to identify the signs and symptoms. Furthermore, anorexics frequently hide their medical conditions, eating habits, and thinness. Missing meals, eating insufficiently, avoiding items you perceive as fatty, or taking medication to curb your appetite are some more symptoms.
  • Some people may also induce vomiting, engage in excessive activity, or take laxatives or other medications to induce urination (diuretics). 
  • Having a general low mood, being socially isolated and irritable are other emotional symptoms of anorexia nervosa.


 Anorexia nervosa cannot be completely prevented. Primary care providers may be well-positioned to spot anorexia's early warning signs and stop the condition from progressing to a more serious stage. For instance, they can ask about food habits and satisfaction with appearance during routine medical consultations.

If you notice that they have low self-esteem, rigid eating habits, or a dissatisfaction with their appearance, think about discussing these worries with a family member or friend. You can talk about better habits or available treatments even though you might not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing.


Anorexia may be overcome, but it may take some time, and everyone will experience recovery in a different way. The best chance for recovery from anorexia is to seek help and support as soon as you can. 

Consult a doctor as soon as you can if you suspect that you may have anorexia, even if you are unsure. They will assess your general health and weight as well as inquire about your eating habits and general well-being. To make sure your weight loss is not the result of something else, they might also refer you for additional blood testing.

They should refer you to an eating disorder specialist or group of specialists if they suspect you may have anorexia or another eating disorder.

In order to help you manage your feelings about food and eating so that you are able to eat enough to be healthy, if you are over 18, you should be offered a form of talking therapy. Your individualised treatment plan will take into account any additional assistance you might require, such as for depression or anxiety.

Complications of Anorexia Nervosa

Complications from anorexia can come in many forms. It can be lethal at its worst. Even when someone is not very underweight, death might happen abruptly. This could be the result of irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) or an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium that keep the fluid balance in your body in check.

Every organ in a person with anorexia might suffer harm if they experience extreme malnutrition, including the kidneys, heart, and brain. Even when the anorexia is under control, the injuries may not entirely heal.

Additional side effects of anorexia include: anemia, heart issues such heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and mitral valve prolapse, osteoporosis, a bone loss condition that raises the risk of fractures, decline in muscle, absence of a menstruation in females, reduced testosterone in men, issues with young people’s development,  digestive issues such as bloating, nausea, or constipation, imbalances in electrolytes, such as low blood sodium, potassium, and chloride, and kidney issues. 

Along with the numerous physical side effects, anorexics frequently suffer from other mental health conditions. They may consist of: anxiety, depression, and other mood disorder, other psychological problems, diseases of compulsive behaviour, alcohol and other drug abuse, and suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm. There may also be complications with the brain and nerves such as fits (seizures), memory loss, and attention issues, as well as renal or bowel issues. 

Chronic anorexia can result in serious health issues linked to inadequate nutrition (malnutrition). Your life may be in danger if you have anorexia.


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Page last reviewed: Mar 6, 2023

Next review due: Mar 6, 2025

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