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Although eventual outcomes of anorexia and starvation are very similar, it is important to rule out one or the other. Anorexia is primarily psychological and not simply due to appetite loss whereas starvation may be due to physical, environmental or other factors. Although here we will discuss only anorexia, several of the treatments will also help overcome the effects of starvation.
Anorexia is a serious eating disorder in which people deliberately starve themselves to lose weight. No matter how thin they become, they still believe they are overweight. Without proper treatment, the disorder can be fatal. More than 90% of people with anorexia are females, though a growing number of males now have the disorder. It usually begins between the ages of 13 and 18 and is often triggered by a severe emotional shock.
If the onset of anorexia occurs before puberty, a girl's sexual development will stop and menstruation won't begin. Severe anorexia leads to chronic malnutrition, which has damaging effects on the body, especially the thyroid, heart, and digestive and reproductive systems. Untreated anorexia can be severe enough to be fatal.
A health care provider will generally ask questions about eating habits - how much and what is being eaten - and exercise patterns. He or she will do blood and other diagnostic tests to eliminate the possibility that weight loss is caused by medical problems. Referral to a therapist or psychiatrist who understands eating disorders is then possible.
It is best to get treatment as soon as the symptoms appear, from a psychiatrist specially trained both in treating the disorder and in nutritional counseling. You may receive cognitive-behavioral, group, relaxation, or psychodynamic therapy. Your health care provider will help you "relearn" how to eat correctly. In severe cases, hospitalization may be needed. Long-term monitoring and support is necessary.
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Anorexia Nervosa: An eating disorder characterized by excess control - a morbid fear of obesity leads the sufferer to try and limit or reduce their weight by excessive dieting, exercising, vomiting, purging and use of diuretics. Sufferers are typically more than 15% below the average weight for their height/sex/age and typically have amenorrhea (if female) or low libido (if male). 1-2% of female teenagers are anorexic.
Bulimia Nervosa: An eating disorder characterized by lack of control - abnormal eating behavior including dieting, vomiting, purging and particularly bingeing that is usually associated with normal weight or obesity (unlike anorexics, who tend to be considerably underweight). The syndrome is associated with guilt, depressed mood, low self-esteem and sometimes with childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism or promiscuity.
Chronic: Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.
Diabetes Mellitus: A disease with increased blood glucose levels due to lack or ineffectiveness of insulin. Diabetes is found in two forms; insulin-dependent diabetes (juvenile-onset) and non-insulin-dependent (adult-onset). Symptoms include increased thirst; increased urination; weight loss in spite of increased appetite; fatigue; nausea; vomiting; frequent infections including bladder, vaginal, and skin; blurred vision; impotence in men; bad breath; cessation of menses; diminished skin fullness. Other symptoms include bleeding gums; ear noise/buzzing; diarrhea; depression; confusion.
Edema: Abnormal accumulation of fluids within tissues resulting in swelling.
Fatty Acids: Chemical chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms that are part of a fat (lipid) and are the major component of triglycerides. Depending on the number and arrangement of these atoms, fatty acids are classified as either saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated. They are nutritional substances found in nature which include cholesterol, prostaglandins, and stearic, palmitic, linoleic, linolenic, eicosapentanoic (EPA), and decohexanoic acids. Important nutritional lipids include lecithin, choline, gamma-linoleic acid, and inositol.
Hypothermia: Abnormally low body temperature.
Insulin: A hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to elevated blood glucose levels. Insulin stimulates the liver, muscles, and fat cells to remove glucose from the blood for use or storage.
Magnesium: An essential mineral. The chief function of magnesium is to activate certain enzymes, especially those related to carbohydrate metabolism. Another role is to maintain the electrical potential across nerve and muscle membranes. It is essential for proper heartbeat and nerve transmission. Magnesium controls many cellular functions. It is involved in protein formation, DNA production and function and in the storage and release of energy in ATP. Magnesium is closely related to calcium and phosphorus in body function. The average adult body contains approximately one ounce of magnesium. It is the fifth mineral in abundance within the body--behind calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium. Although about 70 percent of the body's magnesium is contained in the teeth and bones, its most important functions are carried out by the remainder which is present in the cells of the soft tissues and in the fluid surrounding those cells.
Metabolism: The chemical processes of living cells in which energy is produced in order to replace and repair tissues and maintain a healthy body. Responsible for the production of energy, biosynthesis of important substances, and degradation of various compounds.
Milligram: (mg): 1/1,000 of a gram by weight.
Osteoporosis: A disease in which bone tissue becomes porous and brittle. The disease primarily affects postmenopausal women.
Placebo: A pharmacologically inactive substance. Often used to compare clinical responses against the effects of pharmacologically active substances in experiments.
Thyroid: Thyroid Gland: An organ with many veins. It is at the front of the neck. It is essential to normal body growth in infancy and childhood. It releases thyroid hormones - iodine-containing compounds that increase the rate of metabolism, affect body temperature, regulate protein, fat, and carbohydrate catabolism in all cells. They keep up growth hormone release, skeletal maturation, and heart rate, force, and output. They promote central nervous system growth, stimulate the making of many enzymes, and are necessary for muscle tone and vigor.
Zinc: An essential trace mineral. The functions of zinc are enzymatic. There are over 70 metalloenzymes known to require zinc for their functions. The main biochemicals in which zinc has been found to be necessary include: enzymes and enzymatic function, protein synthesis and carbohydrate metabolism. Zinc is a constituent of insulin and male reproductive fluid. Zinc is necessary for the proper metabolism of alcohol, to get rid of the lactic acid that builds up in working muscles and to transfer it to the lungs. Zinc is involved in the health of the immune system, assists vitamin A utilization and is involved in the formation of bone and teeth.