Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that involves an inability to stay at the minimum body weight considered healthy for the person's age and height.
Persons with this disorder may have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are underweight. They may use extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or other methods to lose weight.
Eating disorder - anorexia
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown. Many factors probably are involved. Genetics and hormones may play a role. Social attitudes that promote unrealistically thin body types may also contribute.
More and more evidence points away from the idea that conflicts within a family may contribute to this or other eating disorders. Most mental health organizations no longer support this theory.
Risk factors include:
- Being a perfectionist
- Feeling increasing concern about, or attention to, weight and shape
- Having eating and digestive problems during early childhood
- Having a mother or father with anorexia or addictions
- Having parents who are concerned about weight and weight loss
- Having a negative self-image and a high level of negative feelings in general
- Undergoing a stressful life change, such as a new job or move, or events such as rape or abuse
Anorexia usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood. It is more common in females, but may also be seen in males. The disorder is seen mainly in Caucasian women who are high academic achievers and who have a goal-oriented family or personality.
Review Date: 02/07/2010
Reviewed By: David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.