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Anorexia Nervosa


What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. You weigh much less than your normal body weight should be. You lose weight by eating very little food, vomiting to avoid weight gain, and exercising too much. The weight loss is not related to another medical condition.

What are the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa?

  • Focus on weight loss: You are scared of gaining weight, even if you are very thin. You may be afraid to gain even 1 pound. You spend much of your time thinking about food and how to lose more weight. You restrict or measure your food. You exercise more than is healthy for you. For example, you run or use the stairs much more than other people or until you injure yourself.
  • Physical problems: You feel tired, weak, and cold all the time. You have cracked or dry skin, and thinning hair. Fine hair covers your body. You often have stomach pain or an upset stomach. You have constipation. Your monthly period may stop.
  • Emotional problems: You act moody, impatient, rude, or want to be left alone. You may feel depressed and that your future is hopeless.

What increases my risk for anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia happens most often during teenage years. The following may increase your risk:

  • You are female.
  • You have a family member with an eating disorder.
  • You do not like how your body looks. You feel there is pressure on you to be thin.
  • You had a recent loss or separation.

What tests are needed for anorexia nervosa?

  • Psychiatric assessment: Healthcare providers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed when you needed it. They will ask if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Healthcare providers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. Healthcare providers will also ask about your hobbies and goals, the people in your life who support you, and how you feel about treatment. The answers to these questions help healthcare providers plan your treatment.
  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Heart monitor: This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.
  • Bone density exam: This a picture of your bones. Healthcare providers will check for bone loss that may occur if you no longer have a monthly period.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your heart and lungs. Healthcare providers may do an x-ray to check for a lung infection.

How is anorexia nervosa treated?

An important part of treatment is understanding that you have a serious, life-threatening medical condition. Treatment may need to take place in a hospital or clinic. The goal of treatment is to give and maintain the right amount of nutrition your body needs. You will need to see a therapist who is trained to help people with eating disorders. You may need to meet with a therapist alone, in a group, or with your family. Ask your healthcare provider for information about these and other types of treatment for anorexia nervosa:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This is also called CBT. You and a therapist will work together to learn the reasons you are unhappy with your body. The therapist will work with you to change your behaviors and decrease your negative feelings about food and your weight.
  • Group or family therapy: Group therapy is a meeting you have with other people who also have anorexia nervosa. Family therapy is a meeting you have with healthcare providers and your family members. Group and family meetings are a time when you talk with others about ways to cope with anorexia nervosa.
  • Nutritional therapy: Healthcare providers will help you create a plan to reach a healthy weight for your height. The plan includes appropriate exercise and nutrition. You may also need extra fluids if you are dehydrated.

Which medicines may be used to treat anorexia nervosa?

Medicines may be given in addition to cognitive and nutritional therapies.

  • Antianxiety: This medicine decreases anxiety and helps you feel calm and relaxed.
  • Anticonvulsants: This medicine controls seizures and to decrease violent behavior, aggression, or irritability. This medicine may help control your mood swings.
  • Antidepressants: This medicine helps decrease or prevent the symptoms of depression. People who have anorexia are often also depressed.
  • Mood stabilizers: This medicine controls mood changes.
  • Nutritional replacement: You may need to take a mineral supplement, such as potassium, if you become malnourished. You may also need to take multivitamins to replace what your body has lost. Ask your healthcare provider which vitamins and minerals are right for you.

What are the risks of anorexia nervosa?

You are at risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. You can have abnormal heartbeats. Repeated vomiting can damage your throat and stomach. Your bones may become weak and lead to bone pain and fractures. You can develop life-threatening heart or kidney problems.

Where can I go for support and more information?

  • National Eating Disorders Association
    165 West 46th Street
    New York , NY 10036
    Phone: 1- 212 - 575-6200
    Phone: 1- 800 - 931-2237
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Public Information & Communication Branch
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You are not able to make it to your next appointment.
  • You force yourself to vomit, or you are vomiting without trying.
  • You are not able to sleep well or are sleeping more than usual.
  • You are constipated.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You want to harm or kill yourself.
  • Your heart is fluttering.
  • You have a rash, swelling, or trouble breathing after you take your medicine.
  • You cannot do your daily activities.
  • You have severe stomach pains.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.