Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by both psychological and physiological signs and symptoms related to low body weight and abnormal food restriction behaviors. Anorexia Nervosa typically presents with two main types of behavior, either as restricting food intake, or as bingeing with purging. Additionally a combination of the two types of unhealthy behavior may coexist. Medical and psychological guidance is often required for treatment.
Anorexia Nervosa in the DSM
The most current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), lists criteria that must be present for a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. These include a refusal to maintain a normal body weight for height and age (usually less than 85% of expected), an intense fear of being fat or gaining weight, a distorted perception of body size or shape, denial of the seriousness of a low body weight, and the presence of amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation for three consecutive months in post-pubescent females and occurs when body weight becomes so low that it negatively impacts normal endocrine and hormonal function.
Anorexia Nervosa in males
Even though amenorrhea is currently a criterion for the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, the calorie restricting behaviors present in this eating disorder are not exclusive to females. Males can also experience eating disorders that present like Anorexia Nervosa, though males will never experience amenorrhea and thus can never achieve a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa under the current diagnostic criteria. For this reason, this particular diagnosis criterion may be eliminated in the next edition of the DSM.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), the lifetime prevalence of Anorexia Nervosa in U.S. adults is 0.6%. Females have a higher lifetime prevalence of 0.9% while males have a lower lifetime prevalence of 0.3%.
Anorexia Nervosa is Treatable
Although Anorexia Nervosa is a treatable condition, it is serious and statistical analysis estimates that up to 10% of those with Anorexia Nervosa my die from complications associated with the disorder. Even so, NIMH statistics indicate that less than 40% of people with Anorexia Nervosa ever receive treatment throughout their entire lifetime. Getting proper medical and psychological support is key in preventing and decreasing the severity of Anorexia Nervosa. It is common for the disorder to vary in severity over time and patients may do well for a period but then experience a relapse. Complete recovery from this serious eating disorder is possible but requires constant vigilance.
Anorexia Nervosa May Involve Other Disorders
Anorexia may also include excessive exercise, or the use/abuse of diet aids or any other type of drug to lose weight. Anorexia primarily affects young females. However, men also struggle with this disorder.
detail from the mural ‘Anorexia Y Tabaquismo’ by Jorge Figueroa Acosta