Emaciation is a severe form of malnutrition in which most of the subcutaneous fat and muscle on a person has wasted away. Emaciated people are extremely thin and their bones are often visible beneath their skin, giving them a skeletal appearance. Although emaciation may be caused by a variety of medical conditions, in the context of eating disorders, it is a result of starvation as occurs in Anorexia Nervosa.

Early Stages of Emaciation

In the early stages of emaciation a person may become irritable and engage in impulsive behavior as their body essentially eats itself, using muscle and fat tissue to maintain caloric requirements to stay alive. As the condition progresses, exhaustion, lethargy, depression and apathy set in. People who are emaciated are generally very passive in nature because they lack vital energy. Solving problems and reasoning becomes more difficult as mental function decreases.

Symptoms of Emaciation

In addition, people who are emaciated not only lack essential nutrients, but tend to become dehydrated as well because both their hunger and thirst are blunted. This can lead to organ damage and result in a variety of variety of negative outcomes. Dry skin, thin skin, rashes, diarrhea, and muscle atrophy are some of the more mild symptoms. Anemia, pellagra, scurvy, edema, pain, heart failure, pleurisy, lymph system dysfunction, and kidney failure may also result. Metabolic and electrolyte disturbances are also possible such as hyponatremia (low blood sodium) and hypokalemia (low blood potassium). Such electrolyte imabalances and heart failure can be life-threatening.

Recovery from Emaciation

Recovery from emaciation is possible but requires a very gradual introduction of nutrients and calories and may also involve psychological intervention and treatment. Generally for people who have been deprived of food for a long period of time, thin liquids and salty broth are first introduced. Over time more substantial liquids like milk are given. Then emaciated individual will be given up to eight small meals consisting of protein and nutrient rich foods daily two hours apart and much time will be spent sleeping, resting, and relaxing in order to increase body mass.

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

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