Eating Disorders: Anorexia


Each year millions of people in the United States are affected by serious and
sometimes life-threatening eating disorders. The vast majority are adolescents
and young adult women. Approximately one percent of adolescents girls develop
anorexia nervosa, a dangerous condition in which they can literally starve
themselves to death. Another two to three percent develop bulimia nervosa, a
destructive pattern of excessive overeating followed by vomiting or other "
purging " behaviors to control their weight. These eating disorders also occur
in men and older women , but much less frequently. The consequences of eating
disorders can be severe. For example, one in ten anorexia nervosa leads to death
from starvation, cardiac arrest, or suicide. Fortunately, increasing awareness
of the dangers of eating disorders, sparked by medicall studies and extensive
media coverage, has led many poeple to seek help. Nevertheless, some people with
eating disorders refuse to admit that they have a problem and do not get
treatment. Family and friends can help recognize the problem and encourage the
person to seek treatment.

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where people intentionally starve themselves. It
usually starts around the time of puberty and involves extreme weight loss.
Sometimes they must be hospitalized to prevent starvation because food and
weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up in strange
eating rituals, some even collect recipes and prepare gourmet feasts for family
and friends. Loss of monthly menstrual periods is typical in women with this
disorder and men with this disorder usually become impotent.

People with bulmia nervosa consume large amounts of food and then rid their
bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, abusing laxatives or excersising
obsessively. Some use a combination of all these forms of purging. Many
individuals with bulimia " binge and purge " in secret and maintain normal or
above normal body weight, they can often successfully hide their problem from
others for years. As with anorexia, bulimia typically begins during adolescence.
The condition occurs most often in women but is also found in men. Many
individuals with bulimia, do not seek help until they reach their thirties or
forties. By then, their eating behavior is deeply ingrained and more difficult
to change.

Medical complications can frequently be a result of eating disorders.
Individuals with eating disorders who use drugs to stimulate vomiting, may be in
considerable danger, as this practice increases the risk of heart failure. In
patients with anorexia, starvation can damage vital organs such as the heart and
brain. To protect itself, the body shifts into " slow gear ": monthly menstrual
periods stop, breathing, pulse and, blood pressure rates drop, and thyroid
function slows. Nails and hair become brittle, the skin dries, yellows, and
becomes covered with soft hair called lanugo. Excessive thirst and frequent
urination may occur. Dehydration contributes to constipation, and reduced body
fat leads to lowered body temperature and inability to with stand cold. Mild
anemia, swollen joints, reduced muscles mass, and light headedness also commonly
occur in anorexia. If the disorder becomes severe, patients may lose calcium
from their bones, making them brittle and prone to breakage. Scientists from the
National Institute of Mental Health ( NIMH ), have also found that patients
suffer from other psychiatric illnesses. They may suffer from anxiety,
personality or substance abuse disorders, and many are at a risk for suicide.
Obsessive compulsive disorder, an illness characterized by repetitive thoughts
and behaviors, can also accompany anorexia.

Bulimia nervosa patients- even those of normal weight- can severly damage their
bodies by frequet binge eating and purging. In rare instances, binge eating
causes the stomach to rupture, purging may result in heart failure due to loss
of vital minerlas, such a potassium. Vomiting causes other less deadly, but
serios, problems. The acid in vomit wears the outer layer of the teeth and can
cause scarring on the backs of hands when fingers are pushed down the throat to
induce vomiting. Further the esophagus becomes inflamed and glands near the
cheeks become swollen. As in anorexia, bulimia may lead to irregular menstual
periods and interest in sex may also diminish. Some individuals with bulimia
struggle with addictions, including abuse if drugs and alcohol, and compulsive
stealing. Like individuals with anorexia, many people with bulimia suffer from
clinical depression, anxiety obsessive compulsive disorder, and other
psychiatric illnesses. These problems place them at high risk for suicidal
behavior. People who binge eat are usually overweight,so they are prone to
medical problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Research, from the NIMH scientists, has shown that individuals with binge eating
disorder have high rates of co-occuring psychiatric illnesses, especially
depression.

Eating disorders are most successfuly treated when