Anorexia nervosa is the most serious psychiatric disorder in terms of its mortality rate. According to some statistics as many as 20% of women with the disorder eventually die as a result. That figure is higher than any other mental disorder. Although not unheard of in males, 95% of cases involve young females between the ages of 14 and 19. The disorder is primarily indigenous to Western cultures where thinness is considered highly desirable. Although the disorder is now on the increase throughout Europe and Japan.
In order to receive a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, the Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual identifies four criteria that must be present.
1. The refusal to maintain one’s normal body weight for one’s age and height.
2. An intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
3. An unrealistic or disturbed view of one’s body or the denial of the seriousness of one’s low body weight.
4. Missing at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.
There is a stereotype that anorexia is a rich white girl’s disease and although it is much more prevalent in Caucasian women it can effect women of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. There is however a profile which tends to appear in women who become anorexic. Anorexics tend to be perfectionists and very competitive by nature. They often have obsessive personalities and seek control. They are detail-oriented and tend to avoid conflict. They are high achievers and usually come from families who put a high value on looks, beauty, and perfection. There is also a high rate of reported child sexual abuse experiences in clinical groups of those who have been diagnosed with anorexia. It is estimated that as many as 15% of anorexics attempt suicide.
Women with anorexia are more likely to develop other physiological problems as well. These include anxiety, depression, as well as personality disorders. Sleep disorders and substance abuse problems are also common among anorexics. Many anorexics also display symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder.
The starvation habits of anorexics eventually cause medical problems. Initially the poor nutrition of these women will cause skin to become rough, nails to become brittle, and hands and feet will become cold and blue. Eventually anorexics all will develop amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle). Other problems include lower body temperature, low blood pressure, reduced bone density, and slowed heart beat. Because of metabolic and electrolyte imbalances circulatory and heart failure can eventually occur.
Some celebrities who have admitted to having an eating disorder include gymnast Cathy Rigby, singer Alanis Morissette, actress Calista Flockhart, and Karen Carpentar who died at the age of 32 from complications due to anorexia.
For more information on anorexia nervosa please visit the National Assoc. of Eating Disorders website.