Anorexia Nervosa, Its Symptoms, Long term and Short-term Side Effects

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa, or AN, is an eating disorder. The following article will help you understand the illness, recognize its symptoms, and learn about its long-term effects.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious psychiatric illness with potentially life-threatening consequences. The illness is characterized by an obsessive worry about gaining weight, the need to be excessively thin, and a distorted idea of body shape and weight. People with anorexia generally have a very low-calorie diet. Though commonly found in females, this disorder may occur in males as well.

Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

People suffering from this eating disorder exhibit extreme weight loss and maintain it in different ways. Some people may have a drastically low-calorie intake, while some may exercise obsessively. Other methods used may be laxatives, diuretics, vomiting, and the binge and purge method similar to Bulimia.

A person with anorexia will usually show various warning signs or symptoms. These include:

  • Drastic, unexplained weight loss
  • Excessive exercise all the time
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Blotchy skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Refusal to eat with others
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Use of diuretics, laxatives, or dieting pills
  • Frequent comments about weight
  • Development of rituals such as arranging food on plate or excessive chewing
  • Low blood pressure and fatigue
  • Eating only few types of foods
  • Repeated weighing or measuring
  • Depression
  • Self-esteem defined by weight loss
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Confusion and slow thinking

Though the causes of anorexia nervosa aren’t fully clear, there might be many contributing factors leading to the disorder. Factors such as a stressful event or a major change like a breakup or moving to a new place can contribute to this illness. People who are high achievers and goal-oriented may also be more susceptible to this condition.

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Factors like genetics, peer pressure, age, gender, family history of an eating disorder, occupation, culture, and psychological difficulties can also lead to anorexia nervosa.

Short-term effects

Anorexia nervosa can cause various health problems and physical complications. Some short-term effects of this condition are:

  • Weight loss
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Insomnia
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea

Long-term effects

A person suffering from this illness will show denial as one of the first signs, making it difficult to ensure prompt treatment. Additionally, a person suffering from this condition will try to function as normally as possible as eating disorder behaviors are frequently hidden.

Long-term engagement of this behavior without seeking treatment often leads to severe consequences for the mind and body. The body suffers from the devastating effects of prolonged malnutrition and low-calorie intake.

Heart Trouble: A restriction on food intake causes a lot of pressure on the heart as well as muscles. According to research, at least one-third of deaths caused by anorexia have been due to cardiac complications such as heart failure and sudden death due to an irregular heart rhythm. Most people suffering from anorexia are deficient in minerals and vitamins, which are essential for the heart. Lack of electrolytes can also cause muscle cramping and paralysis.

Organ Failure: Most people suffering from this condition display symptom of dehydration. This can lead to side effects like kidney stones and even organ failure. Chronic kidney failure has been observed in people with long-term AN. Dehydration can also lead to a high heart rate or causes all organs to stop functioning.

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Immunity: Over a period of time, more than 50 percent of people with this disorder experience a weakened immune system, with dysfunction of white cells. Conditions commonly found in people suffering from AN are anemia, thrombocytopenia, and leucopenia.

Cognition: Long-term anorexia can also lead to deficiencies in memory and cognitive ability. According to studies, long-term AN can lead to diminished verbal reasoning, cognitive flexibility, spatial planning, new rule learning, and answer perseverance. Moreover, a reduction in gray and white brain matter has also been observed.

Low Birth Weight: An unborn child of a woman suffering from anorexia nervosa may also be affected by the disorder. A baby born to a mother with a history of anorexia may have a low birth weight, a condition that is also known as a risk factor for infant mortality.

Infertility: Anorexia Nervosa may also have long-term implications on the reproductive system. Women may suffer from issues such as irregular or missed periods and fertility problems. This occurs because there is an interruption in communication between hormones and the reproductive system. Therefore, people with AN, are also at a higher risk of post-partum depression, miscarriages, and obstetric complications. According to studies, at least 18% of the women suffering from infertility have a history of an eating disorder.

People suffering from AN are also at an increased risk of premature death due to starvation, suicide, cardiac complications, and various other reasons. It is therefore essential that a person suffering from this disease seeks help at the earliest.