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Anorexia Nervosa: Just The Facts

A young person affected by anorexia has not made a lifestyle choice, but is very ill

Anorexia may start with dieting or doing lots of exercise which can spiral out of control. This may be linked to a time of stress or change.

Young people affected by anorexia have a real fear of gaining weight; even when they are underweight or malnourished.  They often have worries about their body image, their body shape or size, or the way they look. Anorexia may result in a young person experiencing a sense of control over body weight and shape.

As a result, young people with anorexia eat very little, if at all, and can become dangerously underweight or lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Many young people affected by anorexia restrict their food intake by dieting and doing lots of exercising. These young people can become preoccupied by calorie counting or fixated with trying to eat as little as possible and avoiding of certain foods.

Anorexia is more common in females; however, males suffer from this illness too. Young people with anorexia often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour from family and friends. Therefore, it often isolates them and can cause difficulties in close relationships.

Effects of anorexia

Anorexia nervosa can impact young people both psychologically and physically.

Examples of psychological effects:

  • Preoccupation with thinking about body weight and/or shape
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping/tiredness
  • Setting high standard/becoming a ‘perfectionist’
  • Low mood and anxiety

Examples of physical effects:

  • Severe weight loss
  • In females, periods stop or become irregular
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation/bloating
  • Growth of excess hair all over the body
  • Hair falling out
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness

If you or someone you know is experiencing chest pain or heart palpitations, seek urgent medical attention.

Anorexia nervosa can also have long term effects on the body:

  • Puberty, growth and physical development can be delayed
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Damaging effects to many systems in the body

There is no known single cause for anorexia and it’s generally understood as being due to a combination of factors including the individual’s genetic make-up, personality characteristics and biological factors. Possible triggers can relate to what is happening in that person’s life and the social environment.

Due to the psychological, physical and long term effects of anoxeria nervosa, it’s important for young people to receive treatment as early as possible. If you are concerned about yourself, a friend or family member, speak to your school nurse, GP or trusted adult.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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