Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition. It's an eating disorder causing very low body weight, harming health. It most commonly affects younger women. It has become more common in young men, though it is ten times less common than in younger women. Typically it begins during teenage years.
About anorexia nervosa
People with anorexia usually control their weight by restricting the amount of food they eat; this includes making themselves vomit. They may also exercise excessively to reduce their weight.
The condition often develops from an anxiety about body shape and weight.
This anxiety comes from a fear of being fat or wanting to be thin. Many people with anorexia have a distorted image of themselves, thinking they're fat when they're not.
Signs and symptoms of anorexia
People with anorexia often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends.
This can include lying about what they've eaten or pretending to have eaten earlier.
Signs someone may have anorexia or another eating disorder include:
- missing meals, eating very little, or avoiding eating any fatty foods
- obsessively counting calories in food
- leaving the table immediately after eating so they can vomit
- taking appetite suppressants, laxatives, or diuretics (a type of medication that helps remove fluid from the body)
- repeatedly weighing themselves or checking their body in the mirror
- physical problems, such as feeling lightheaded or dizzy, hair loss, or dry skin
People with anorexia often don't seek help. This could be because they're afraid or don't recognise they have a problem.
Many may have hidden their condition for a long time – sometimes years.
The most important first step is for someone with anorexia to realise they need help and want to get better.
If you think someone you know has anorexia, try talking to them about your worries and encourage them to seek help.
You may want to seek advice from an eating disorder support group such as Eating Disorders Association about the best way to raise the subject.
If you think you may have anorexia, try to seek help as soon as possible. You could start by talking to a person you trust, such as a member of your family or a friend.
You could perhaps ask them to go with you to see your GP.
If you want to get help for yourself, or help for someone you know who you think might have anorexia, see your GP.
Your GP will check your weight and blood pressure and assess you. This is to see how urgently you need to be referred to an eating disorders specialist.
If your weight is very low, you may need to be admitted to hospital. Before anorexia can be treated, an eating disorders specialist will carry out a detailed physical, psychological and social needs assessment.
In most cases, treatment will involve a combination of psychological therapy and individually tailored advice on eating and nutrition to help gain weight safely.
A range of different healthcare professionals will usually be involved in your care, such as GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, specialist nurses and dietitians.
Most people are able to be treated on an outpatient basis. This means you can go home between appointments. More serious cases are treated in hospital or specialist eating disorder clinics.
It can take several years of treatment to fully recover from anorexia, and relapses are common.
Around half of people with anorexia will continue to have some level of eating problem despite treatment.
If anorexia remains unsuccessfully treated for a long time, a number of other serious problems can develop.
Despite being an uncommon condition, the mortality rate for anorexia is three times that of any other mental health-related condition causing death. This can be because of the effects of malnutrition or as a result of suicide.
More useful links
- How to use your health services
- Healthy weight
- Mental health support
- Mental health services
- Minding your head
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.