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Anorexia is an eating disorder that occurs when a person's obsession with diet and exercise leads to extreme weight loss. Anorexia can lead to a number of issues like osteoporosis and potentially fatal cardiac problems.

Factors that may lead to anorexia include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of becoming overweight
  • Pressure to be thin
  • Families that are overprotective, rigid, not involved or in conflict
  • Family history of eating disorders
  • Emotional stress
  • Mood disorders, such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Influenced by social and fashion trends emphasizing or glamorizing thinness


Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive weight loss
  • Obsession with food, calories and fat content
  • Dieting even when thin
  • Intense fear of gaining weight, even when underweight
  • Body dysmorphia — distorted self-image of being overweight despite evidence of the opposite
  • Basing self-evaluation heavily on body weight or shape
  • Loss of menstrual periods or delay in the beginning of periods
  • Excessive exercising
  • Feeling cold, especially hands and feet
  • Being secretive about food
  • Hair loss and/or growth of fine hair on the body
  • Fainting or severe light-headedness
  • Constipation
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Heart palpitations

Diagnosis & Treatment 

Your doctor may perform a series of tests, including:

  • Psychological tests
  • Blood test
  • Electrocardiogram – to test your heart
  • Bone density test


The goal of treatment is to get you to a healthy weight and to help you maintain that weight. A healthy weight is above 85% of your ideal weight. A dietitian can help you learn more about a healthy diet and reasonable calorie and weight goals.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you develop a healthier and more realistic self-image. Therapists can help you find new ways to think about your body and your diet.


Therapy can help you understand and cope with concerns about your relationships. Family therapy can help your family to understand the disorder and provide support.


In some cases, anorexic patients benefit from a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Used alone, antidepressant therapy is not an effective treatment for anorexia.


You may need to be hospitalized if:

  • Your weight is 25% to 30% below ideal body weight
  • There are signs of serious physical or emotional deterioration

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.