Even though the problem of hunger is not a burning issue in developed countries today, more and more people suffer from some eating conditions. Anorexia, also known as Anorexia Nervosa, is the disorder that continues to affect more and more people nowadays. Healthcare providers regard it as the eating disorder with underlying psychological, biological, and social causes. It does significant harm to human body. This condition has its unique onset, pathophysiology, symptoms, outcomes, prognosis, and treatment. Since every ordinary person, even the one in good health, can acquire it, people should be aware of the peculiarities of anorexia, its manifestations, development, consequences, and other aspects in order to prevent and be ready to stop it when it is not too late.
Anorexia is an extremely severe condition that can lead to death in case of late diagnosis and absence of notable treatment effects. It affects both men and women of all ages and no one is assumed to have no risks of acquiring it. Anorexia can be defined as the eating disorder, characterized by fear of consumption more calories and gaining weight, distorted vision of one’s own body, and refusal to consume any other than calorie-free products to maintain healthy body weight. The condition starts before a person demonstrates having any of its symptoms. Anorexia develops slowly and gradually. At first, an anorexic individual seems to be too preoccupied with his/her physical appearance. All patients suffering from this disease insist they are overweight or they need to lose several pounds to look better even though they look skinny. They tend to control their diet, weigh themselves regularly, or exercise a lot. Moreover, their appearance changes as well. They have emaciated look, bad hair and nails, pale or even bluish skin. Another stage of the disease begins when the weight loss is not normal. If a person refuses to eat and counts every calorie, there are all reasons to suppose that something is wrong. Since the individual does not obtain sufficient amount of nutrients, all systems of the body become affected. Memory and thinking skills deteriorate, heart rate and blood pressure become lower, bones lack calcium and as a result, osteoporosis develops, muscles weaken, kidneys fail to perform their functions well, constipation and bloating appear, menstruation stops, hair becomes weaker and can fall out in big number, skin acquires bluish color, and the organism suffers from many other negative changes. All these alterations lead to extremely dangerous outcomes. A person can die because of exhaustion, heart or kidney failure, and even trauma obtained as the result of a fall.
Symptoms of the disease can be different. They include behavioral changes and physiological manifestations. Some of the signs are mentioned above. The most apparent symptoms include severe weight loss, fatigue, dizziness, brittle nails and hair, dry skin, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), fainting, dehydration, constipation, fractures, osteoporosis, and some others.
Treatment of anorexia presupposes physiological and psychological approach. First of all, a person needs to understand that there is something wrong with him/her and seek help. Then, different counselors and professionals will do everything they can to change the situation. A psychotherapist or psychologist will try to change the way a patient perceives him/herself and teach to deal with negative thoughts. Doctors can hospitalize the patient in case of severe exhaustion to sustain the organism, stabilize the state, and treat the conditions that stem from malnutrition (low blood pressure, kidney malfunction, and others). Nutritionists will help patients create a diet that ensures weight gain (to reverse negative effects) and sufficient calorie intake without becoming overweight. Still, treatment largely depends on the anorexic person. If there are no positive changes in psychological aspects, all other interventions are just temporary.
The effects of the condition are far from positive as well. An anorexic patient can lose the job or be forced to leave school because of extreme weight loss. Moreover, the connection with friends and family members, and adherence to religious traditions become weaker. Physical effects include but are not limited to brain damage, which causes the shutdown of many systems in the organisms, heart attack, loss of the ability to conceive the child (females do not have periods if the body does not obtain sufficient minimum of food for proper functioning), and others. Therefore, if there is no proper treatment, or if it does not give positive results, the disease will lead to severe deterioration of organism functions and even death.
All outcomes of anorexia have several underlying causes. Even though the scientists have already done a substantial research, they did not manage to determine the main cause of the condition. However, one can admit that there is a complicated interaction of different factors: psychological, social, and biological. There are some implications that genetics plays its role in anorexia development as well as any other aspect. If a person has relatives that suffer from some eating condition, they are more prone to acquiring anorexia than other people. However, the interaction of genetics with other factors is not clear. According to the Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center, there are implications that some genes preserve the tendency to have “perfectionism, sensitivity and rigidity”, the features that are typical for anorexic people. Other causes are psychological. If the person has a sharp sense of perfectionism, does not have high self-esteem, it is possible that he/she can acquire anorexia. Physiological cause that is closely interconnected with psychological ones is low levels of serotonin. If the brain does not produce enough serotonin, a person starts suffering from depression, which can lead to anorexia. Cultural aspects influence person’s self-perception as well. If popular culture imposes particular appearance, one will try to acquire it by all means. Trying to look like models, people become anorexic.
For a person suffering from anorexia, prognosis can be both positive and negative. The main aspect depends on the patient him/herself, because one can change the situation. If the anorexic person accepts the fact that he/she is sick, there are many chances for the recovery. In this case, the patient accepts the treatment, obtains more and more nutrients and gains the weight. If the damage to the body is irreversible, it is possible at least for some time to support the organism. However, if healthcare providers do not manage to change the patient’s attitude to the problem and the person continues to starve, the prognosis is very dark as malnutrition leads to organ failure and exhaustion, which cause death.
Even though genetics might be related to anorexia, I am inclined to think that psychological and cultural factors play the most important role. The group that is most often diagnosed with anorexia consists of pre-teen and teenage people. In most cases, these are females. Seeing different ads, watching TV, and coming across slim singers, actresses, and models in the Internet, girls subconsciously compare themselves to the celebrities. Since many of them experienced abuse of negligence in the childhood, they do not have high self-esteem. Teenagers look in the mirror, see they are different from the perfect image they have formed in their mind, and have a desire to change something. The weight is regarded as the easiest to change and the most apparent characteristics to alter. In their pursuit of perfect image, girls stop noticing when they have the same shape as their role-model. They think that the slimmer they are, the better they look. Their vision of themselves changes in such a way that they consider themselves to be overweight even if they are extremely underweight. I had a conversation with Cassie, a 16-year old anorexic female who has been fighting the disease for 2 years. She says that she is afraid to look in the mirror as she does not see there what she wants to see. Since she feels there is something wrong with her – she does not have periods, loses her hair, has low blood pressure and becomes faint often, she undergoes treatment. Cassie wants to feel better, but she refuses to change her distorted image of herself. She still thinks she might have looked better if she had lower weight, though in fact, she looks like a person who had to starve for a long time. When I asked what made her think so, she said she was never as popular as her classmates with model appearance at school, so she changed her diet completely to lose the kilos that prevented her, in Cassie’s opinion, from a perfect shape. Having heard her story, I understood that the problem is miles more complicated than we usually perceive it. The distorted image of oneself is almost impossible to change. Therefore, it is easier to prevent the condition than to deal with it. Mass media should stop imposing its vision of perfect body. Parents and educators need to devote more time to children, making sure they are happy to be the way they are. In addition to that, healthcare providers need to come up with new ways of treatment anorexia as despite the breakthroughs in medicine, many people die because the existing treatment does not work for them.
All in all, anorexia is eating disorder that can lead to death. Psychological, social, and sometimes health problems make a person extremely preoccupied with his/her body weight. Malnutrition leads to organ failure, brain damage, extreme weight loss, and even death. The symptoms include weight loss, strict diet control, constipation, pale skin, bad nail and hair state, and many others. Since more and more people suffer from anorexia, mass media should stop imposing slimness as the perfect appearance and the scientists need to find more effective ways to treat the disease.