Anorexia Nervosa is the most deadly of all mental illnesses. It is a type of eating disorder that is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common in the US. We’ve prepared some anorexia facts and statistics for you to become more informed about what’s happening in your family.
Anorexia Nervosa: An Overview
The first time the term “anorexia nervosa” was used, was in 1873 by Dr. William Gull. He was one of the first to study and treat this eating disorder in a medical way. In the past 100 years, during the 20th and 21st centuries, anorexia has become much more common.
In short, anorexia nervosa is the name for a mental disorder that describes an individual who severely restricts his or her food intake. People with anorexia have an extreme desire to be thin and lose weight. They often see themselves as fat, and therefore unattractive, despite whatever the mirror or the scale says. Even when the person is visibly underweight and quite frail, he or she might not admit to a problem. Misperception and self-harming weight-loss behaviors are what characterize this mental illness.
Sometimes people who suffer from anorexia nervosa also engage in purging behaviors. These might include forcing oneself to throw up, using laxatives, or extreme exercise. Purging may happen on occasion, however, if it’s a regular occurrence, bulimia nervosa may be a more accurate diagnosis. Purging is the focus in cases of bulimia, and severe-food restriction is the focus in anorexia cases.
- An estimated .9% of all American women are estimated to suffer from anorexia at some point in their lives. Girls and younger women are the most vulnerable for developing bulimia.
- Only about .3% of American men will ever experience anorexia in their lifetime. Gay and bisexual men are at greater risk than straight men. This might be due to higher beauty standards and more pressure to look good in the gay community.
- Bulimia nervosa has a mortality rate of 6%. This means that of all anorexia cases, about 6% will die due to the disease. This figure is based on a meta-analysis of 42 scientific studies over the past 50 years.
What makes Anorexia so dangerous?
This mental illness is so dangerous because the individual is literally putting their body through starvation conditions. Every organ system is at risk for damage in cases of anorexia. The body is simply not receiving the nutrients and minerals necessary for good health. These are the medical complications that develop due to anorexia:
- 50% of those with anorexia will develop osteoporosis. This refers to when the bones weaken and get thinner.
- Amennorrhea. This is a term for when a woman’s menstrual cycle stops because of weight loss.
- Brittle hair and nails.
- Yellow, unhealthy appearing skin.
- Lanugo. This is the scientific name for a special type of hair that grows on the human body during conditions of starvation. It’s a soft, fine type of hair that grows all over the face and body. Scientists believe this is the body’s attempt to stay warm when there’s not enough fat to insulate us.
- Cold intolerance or even hypothermia, which is a lowered body temperature.
- Low blood pressure. This can contribute to fainting spells, and weakness.
- Irregular and rapid heartbeat
- Abdominal distension. This refers to a big, swollen rounded belly. It is important to know that the belly is not fat, it’s just swollen.
- Hair loss
- Halitosis, a.k.a. bad breath. This may be due to vomiting, malnutrition, or ketosis. Ketosis happens when the body has no carbohydrate intake and starts to produce excessive acetone which can be smelled on the breath and skin. Yes acetone, as in nail polish remover.
- Orange colored feet
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle pain and tension
Comorbidity: co-occurring mental illnesses
Oftentimes anorexia is made worse, and potentially more fatal, by co-occurring mental illnesses. In most cases, those with anorexia will also have a mood disorder, personality disorder, underlying anxiety, and very commonly some form of self-harming disorder.
Signs of Anorexia Nervosa
How can you tell if you or someone you love has anorexia? These are the signs to look out for. Keep in mind that anorexic individuals will try to cover up their disorder as much as possible.
- An abnormally skinny appearance
- Fear of weight gain
- Weight loss that occurs rapidly and continuously
- An obsession with calorie counting and monitoring nutrient values
- Preoccupation with food, recipes, or cooking. It’s not uncommon for an anorexic person to cook elaborate dinners for others, without eating a portion themselves. They may eat nothing at all or just a taste.
- Discussing food restrictions despite being underweight or at a healthy weight.
- Strange food rituals. This could include cutting food into tiny pieces, refusing to eat around others, and hiding or discarding of food.
- Excessive exercise
- Micro-exercising throughout the day. There are various methods, including making small movements of fingers or toes
- Solitude: may avoid friends and family and become more withdrawn and secretive.
- Evidence of self-loathing.
- Admiration of thinner people.
- Visiting or subscribing to pro-anorexia websites
What are the causes of Anorexia Nervosa?
As with all mental illnesses, there is no one single reason that anorexia nervosa happens. Chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, cultural notions about beauty, and traumatic life events can all contribute to the development of anorexia.
Certain career paths can increase risk for developing anorexia. Modeling, acting, and other appearance-heavy jobs can increase pressure to be thin. Also, participating in certain sports that require a lean body type, such as ballet and swimming, can lead to anorexia too.
- Although anorexia is the most infamous of eating disorders, it is not the most common. Bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED) are much more common.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affects those with anorexia more than the general population.
- Latin@s and African Americans are at higher risk for bulimia than other races.
- The direct mortality rate for anorexia nervosa is 6%, as mentioned earlier. However, scientists estimate that 10-15% of anorexia sufferers will die from extra complications that arise because of the disease.
- Only 40% of those with anorexia are expected to make a full recovery. Relapse is very common
- Anorexia that starts early in life can lead to stunted growth and a shorter lifetime stature.
Unfortunately, when it comes to anorexia, relapse is a big problem. 60% of cases will continue to struggle with this eating disorder throughout their lives. This is why early, and intensive treatment is the best decision. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and learning new social skills are the top ways to treat anorexia nervosa.
At intervention.com, we have the expertise and experience to help you recover from this life-threatening eating disorder. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from anorexia, please reach out to us, we’ll be there for you.