For many families, an anorexia nervosa diagnosis can be overwhelming and very scary, but with access to the right tools and treatment it is entirely possible for patients with anorexia nervosa disorder to make a full recovery. This complex disorder affects millions of people every year in the United States and across the globe. Characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with body weight and/or shape as well as behaviors that are designed to restrict food intake, anorexia nervosa disorder often results in patients becoming dangerously underweight. This type of eating disorder affects people of all ages, races and social demographics, but is most commonly developed in adolescence or young adulthood. While an anorexia nervosa diagnosis can be difficult to process, there are many different anorexia nervosa treatment options available. Keep reading to learn more about anorexia nervosa recovery.
What Is Anorexia Nervosa Disorder?
Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental and medical health condition that, in severe cases, can be life-threatening. It is very common among adolescents and young girls in particular, but can affect people of all ages and genders. In fact, studies show approximately nine percent of American women will develop anorexia nervosa behaviors in their lifetime. Some of the common symptoms of anorexia nervosa include an obsessive fear of gaining weight, the refusal to maintain a “normal” body weight for one’s age and height and a distorted body image. Those struggling with anorexia nervosa may not be able to clearly identify they are underweight, even in very severe cases.
Those with anorexia nervosa may also go through a recurring cycle of restricting caloric intake and avoiding certain foods to purging calories. Additionally, anorexia nervosa may occur alongside other mental health conditions, including:
- Anxiety disorders
- Mood disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Substance abuse
- Personality disorders
If a person is experiencing symptoms related to anorexia nervosa and one or more additional mental health conditions, symptoms can intensify and lead to the possibility of more severe health risks. When a person is diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, specialized anorexia nervosa treatment is important to consider in treatment and on the path to recovery.
What Are the Other Common Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa?
An anorexia nervosa diagnosis can impact the entire family involved and result in a huge shift in the way they go through their day-to-day lives. Because anorexia nervosa is a very complicated disorder, it is important for parents and their loved ones to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with this disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa will not only display physical symptoms but psychological and behavioral changes as well.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
- Stomach cramping, acid reflux, constipation and other more non-specific gastrointestinal issues
- Dizziness, fainting and difficulties concentrating
- Sleep problems
- Dry skin, dry and brittle nails
- Dental problems including eroding tooth enamel, tooth sensitivity and cavities
- Menstrual irregularities including irregular periods and amenorrhea
- Thinning hair, dry and brittle hair, the appearance of fine hairs on the body
- Yellowing skin, muscle weakness and impaired immune functioning
Psychological and Behavioral Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
- Dramatic weight loss
- A preoccupation with food, calories, weight and dieting
- Frequently commenting about feeling “fat” despite being underweight
- Dressing in layers to hide body shape
- Refusal to eat certain foods, creating new restrictions surrounding diet, denies feeling hungry
- Cooking meals for others without eatingand making excuses to avoid mealtimes
- Becoming withdrawn from friends and other social activities
- Maintaining a rigid and excessive exercise routine despite illness, injury, fatigue or inclement weather
- Embarrassed to eat around others or in public
- Developing food rituals like eating food in certain orders, rearranging food on their plate or excessively chewing food
What Are the Health Consequences of Anorexia Nervosa?
Treatment and therapy for anorexia nervosa focus on multiple areas, including ending the cycle of self-starvation to help the body regain access to essential nutrients it needs to function properly. Over time, when a person continues to use anorexia nervosa disordered behaviors, they are forcing the body to slow down all of its vital processes to help conserve energy; this can result in a number of very serious medical conditions. While the human body is incredibly resilient and capable of coping with eating disordered behaviors, certain electrolyte imbalances can cause severe internal damage without warning and in some cases, cardiac arrest.
Eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, can affect every major organ system in the body, thus making it vital for those with the condition to seek professional help in an eating disorder recovery program as soon as possible. Early intervention with eating disorders is extremely important, increasing the likelihood that anorexia nervosa treatment will be successful and an individual will make a full recovery. Some of the most common health consequences related to eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, include:
Risks to the Cardiovascular System
When a person consumes fewer calories than the body needs to function properly, it begins to break down its own tissue to use as fuel. During this process, the muscles are among the first organs that begin to break down. As the heart begins to slowly break down, it is common for a patient’s pulse and blood pressure to drop dramatically because the heart has less fuel to pump the blood. When left untreated, these issues increase the risk for heart failure. In some cases, doctors may confuse the slower pulse of an eating disorder patient with that of an athlete. Therefore, if there is any concern regarding an eating disorder, parents and adult patients should speak to their doctor about the possibility of a low heart rate being a symptom of the condition.
If a patient has anorexia nervosa, binge-eating type, the actions of purging can quickly deplete the body of important chemicals called electrolytes. For example, electrolytes like potassium play a very important part in helping the heart beat regularly and the muscles contract. With regular purging, this process can be disrupted. Additionally, other electrolytes like chloride and sodium can be affected by purging and/or drinking excessive amounts of water in place of meals. These electrolyte imbalances can result in irregular heartbeat, an increased risk for heart failure and even death.
Neurological System Risks
Even though the human brain only weighs approximately three pounds, it can consume up to one-fifth of the body’s total calories. This means dieting, self-starvation, fasting and erratic eating behaviors can result in the brain not getting enough energy to function properly. When the brain is “hungry” for calories, the a patient will experience more obsessive thoughts and difficulty concentrating.
Additionally, when the brain is hungry, it can be very difficult to fall asleep or sleep restfully. The lack of blood flow throughout the body means blood vessels are unable to push enough blood to the brain, resulting in fainting spells or dizziness. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can also cause muscle cramping and, in more severe cases, seizures.
Potential Risks to the Endocrine System
Most people aren’t aware the body makes many of the hormones it needs to function with the cholesterol and fat they eat. If the body is not getting enough fat or calories in the meals a person consumes hormones levels can fall drastically, resulting in:
- Lowered sex hormones causing menstruation failure or irregular periods
- A reduced metabolic rate, potentially dropping the body’s core temperature and resulting in hypothermia
- Lowered sex hormones that can greatly increase bone loss, increasing the risk for fractures and broken bones
- Restricting calories and sending the body into starvation that can cause high cholesterol levels
Other Health Risks Associated with Anorexia Nervosa
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Kidney failure
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath
- Decreased blood cell counts
Is Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa Possible?
Although studies have shown it is among the deadliest of all mental illnesses, anorexia nervosa recovery is possible. However, due to the complexity of the condition, comprehensive therapy for anorexia nervosa is required for most patients. It is recommended those interested in eating disorder recovery choose anorexia nervosa treatment centers that provide both medical and psychiatric care. With the help of an experienced and multidisciplinary treatment team that includes medical doctors, psychiatric doctors, counselors and nutritional experts, patients have the best chance of maintaining recovery and gaining the tools they need to appropriately handle triggers in the outside world.
With proper treatment and therapy for anorexia nervosa, a full and lasting recovery is possible. While anorexia nervosa recovery is not always an easy process, with a strong support system and coping skills, making the transition back into a regular routine following treatment is possible.
Treatment Options for Eating Disorder Recovery
There are a wide variety of anorexia nervosa treatment centers located throughout the United States, but it is important for families to do plenty of research surrounding the therapies offered before contacting admissions. One key factor to keep in mind when choosing a recovery program is whether or not the patient has co-occurring conditions like anorexia nervosa and substance abuse or depression. In these cases, it is vital that families choose a program that includes both medical and psychiatric care.
Types of Treatment
While there is not one perfect eating disorder treatment option for everyone, patients may find success with one or more of the following levels of care:
- Intensive Outpatient Care:This type of treatment is ideal for people who are deemed both medically and psychiatrically stable, but still need access to eating disorder counseling, group therapy, etc.
- Partial Hospitalization: With this type of treatment, patients are medically and psychiatrically stable, but their eating disorder has impaired their functioning and interrupted their daily life; making daily or weekly assessment necessary.
- Residential Treatment: This treatment option provides 24-hour care, for those who need a higher level of care and potentially, medical or psychiatric monitoring and support.
- Inpatient Care:With this level of care, patients can be both medically and psychiatrically unstable, requiring close monitoring by health professionals. They may present with rapidly worsening symptoms, suicidal thoughts and unstable vital signs.
Contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers Today
At Oliver-Pyatt Centers and our affiliate programs, patients have access to the highest quality of care from an experienced group of professionals including medical doctors, therapists, fitness instructors, dietitians and more.