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  • Restriction of calorie intake leading to underweight BMI (BMI < 18.5).

  • Intense fear of gaining weight or behavior that prevents weight gain.

  • Distorted perception of body image, with undue influence of weight on self-worth.

  • Denial of the medical seriousness of underweight status.


Anorexia nervosa is characterized by underweight BMI, intense fear of gaining weight, and distorted perception of body image. Anorexia nervosa typically begins in the years between adolescence and young adulthood. Ninety percent of patients are female, most of middle and upper socioeconomic status.

The prevalence of anorexia nervosa is greater than previously suggested since prior diagnostic criteria were more restrictive and individuals with anorexia often conceal their illness. Many adolescents have mild versions of the disorder without severe weight loss. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) classifies the severity of anorexia according to BMI: mild, BMI 17–18.49; moderate, BMI 16–16.99; severe, BMI 15–15.99; extreme, BMI less than 15.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa: binge-eating/purging type and restricting type. The binge-eating/purging subtype is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge-eating or purging (ie, self-induced vomiting and/or abuse of diuretics, laxatives, enemas, cathartics). The restricting subtype is characterized by dieting, fasting, or excessive exercising without associated binge-eating or purging.

The cause of anorexia nervosa is not known. Although multiple endocrinologic abnormalities exist in patients with anorexia nervosa, most authorities believe they are secondary to malnutrition and not the primary disorder. Most experts favor a primary psychiatric origin, but no hypothesis explains all cases. Comorbidity with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder is not uncommon and can be pernicious. The patient characteristically comes from a family whose members are highly goal-oriented. One theory holds that the patient's refusal to eat is an attempt to regain control of one's body in defiance of parental control. The patient's unwillingness to inhabit an "adult body" may also represent a rejection of adult responsibilities and the implications of adult interpersonal relationships. Patients are often perfectionistic in behavior and exhibit obsessional personality characteristics. Obsessional preoccupation with food is also common.


A. Symptoms and Signs

Patients with anorexia nervosa may exhibit severe emaciation and frequently complain of cold intolerance or constipation. Bradycardia, hypotension, and hypothermia may be present in severe cases. Examination demonstrates loss of body fat, dry and scaly skin, and increased lanugo body hair. Parotid enlargement and edema may also occur. In females of reproductive age, cessation of menstruation is common.

B. Laboratory Findings

Laboratory findings are variable but may include anemia, leukopenia, electrolyte abnormalities, and elevations of BUN and serum creatinine. Serum cholesterol levels are often increased. Endocrine abnormalities include depressed levels of LH and FSH and ...

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