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Anorexia nervosa - Introduction

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition that can be life-threatening.

People with anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible, usually by restricting the amount of food they eat. They often have a distorted image of themselves, thinking that they're fat when they're not.  

Some people with the condition also exercise excessively, and some eat a lot of food in a short space of time (binge eating) and then make themselves sick or use laxatives (purging).

People affected by anorexia often go to great attempts to hide their behaviour from family and friends by lying about eating and what they have eaten, or by pretending to have eaten earlier.

Read more about the symptoms of anorexia nervosa.

As with other eating disorders, anorexia can be associated with depression, low self-esteem, alcohol misuse and self-harm.

Read more about the causes of anorexia nervosa.

Treating anorexia

If you have an eating disorder such as anorexia, the first step is to recognise you have a problem and visit your GP for a medical check up and advice on treatment.

One of the biggest challenges in treating anorexia is getting people with the condition to accept their behaviour is not normal. 

The first step towards getting better is to recognise the problem and to have a genuine desire to get well.

A combination of psychological treatments and advice on eating and nutrition usually helps to treat anorexia. More serious cases are treated in hospital or a specialist eating disorder clinic.

Read more about the treatment of anorexia nervosa.

Complications of anorexia

Not eating enough food can lead to a wide range of complications, some of which can be fatal, such as:

Read more about the complications of anorexia nervosa.


Once a person seeks help, it usually takes five to six years of treatment to fully recover, and relapses are common. Around half of people with anorexia will continue to have problems related to healthy eating despite treatment.

Despite being an uncommon condition, anorexia is one of the leading causes of mental health-related deaths. This can be due to the effects of malnutrition or as a result of suicide.

Medical Review: May 14, 2012
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