Anorexia or Anorexia Nervosa can be explained as a disorder in which affected persons are obsessed with restricting their diet in order to lose weight even though they may be of normal weight. It is said to be the third leading cause of chronic disease among young people.
Anorexia affects persons of all races. It predominately affects more women than men, and studies show it is prevalent among teenage girls and younger children to a lesser extent. Peer pressure, family history, and other factors can cause anorexia to develop. It can also affect a small percentage of men and causes low testosterone levels, reduced bone mass, low sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
Anorexia and joint pain are inextricably linked due to the effects of malnutrition on the body. Studies show that this disorder affects almost every major system but more significantly the heart and bones seem to suffer adverse effects. Signs and symptoms include:
- Binge eating
- Abnormal or excess levels of exercise
- Fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
Some of the organs affected are the brain and nervous systems and can cause:
- Low levels of concentration and poor memory
- Increase in seizures and other nerve disorders
The heart and blood vessels are affected by:
- Swollen hands and feet (water retention)
- Low blood pressure
- Heart failure
Other organs include the kidneys and liver. Patients can also experience low blood sugar and anemia.
Prolonged anorexia is said to result in an undernourished system that can cause complications such as osteoporosis and irregular or rapid heartbeat. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
Unchecked symptoms of anorexia can progress to the stage where the body’s metabolism undergoes major changes due to loss of essential minerals and nutrients. Healthy brain function is also affected and can result in persons experiencing uncontrolled anxiety, fear, depression and irrational thoughts and feelings.
Some Physical Symptoms Of Anorexia Include:
- Swollen joints
- Abnormal weight loss
- Muscle tiredness
- Thinning bones
- Hair loss
- Tooth decay
- Skin disorders
Psychological Symptoms Include:
- Unrealistic expectations of body image
- Mood swings
- Abnormal eating habits (reductions or excesses)
Anorexia Affects Women By:
- Reducing estrogen levels which cause cessation of the monthly menstrual flow
- Increasing infertility
- Miscarriage and low birth weight in babies
- Low libido
- Predisposition to osteoporosis in later life
Anorexia in pre-teens and adolescents can be more significant since this is the stage where bones and muscles are at their height of growth and development. If anorexia occurs during this critical period, it can result in:
- Reduced bone density
- Restricted or stunted growth
- Shrunken Bones
- Psychological disorders
It can also set them up for the early development of osteoporosis.
Malnutrition from anorexia deprives the body of necessary nutrients to build strong bones and is responsible for:
- Low body weight
- Reduced growth hormones
- Unusual weight loss
- Restricted nutritional intake
- Depleted calcium levels
One May Ask How Anorexia Affects The Bones.
- Studies show that when the body lacks essential nutrients, (as in malnutrition) the attending stress on the system causes the brain and body to compensate for the loss by producing excess levels of a hormone called cortisol.
- Cortisol is produced to help the body respond to stress but is also shown to cause decreases in bone density and mass.
- Where there is a deficiency in bone minerals, the bones and spinal chord that support body structure can be severely compromised. This can cause the bones to become shorter, resulting in stunted growth and a reduction in height.
When the bones are affected by anorexia, patients become more susceptible to falls, sprains, and fractures and some may experience:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Muscle weakness and soreness
- Chronic Pain
Apart from osteoporosis (brittle, thin, hollow bones), symptoms of anorexia can also lead to the following disorders:
- Rheumatism (joint inflammation)
- Chronic back and neck pain
- Arthritis (joint stiffness and pain)
- Osteoarthritis (loss of joint cartilage)
- Mineral loss
If anorexia is not treated early, bone loss can become permanent. With early intervention, however, some of the symptoms may be reversed by:
- Weight gain
- Increased nutrition including calcium to help strengthen bones
- Supplements to help rebuild bone mass
Can Anorexia Be Treated?
Early intervention may help in some instances, but the effects of anorexia may be difficult to reverse if left unchecked.
Studies show that treatment is multifaceted to help address the physical, mental and or psychological symptoms of anorexia and would typically include some of the following modalities:
The aim should be to help restore normal eating patterns and healthy weight management. This will include helping patients make good food choices to help increase calcium levels to help treat bone loss. Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong bones and teeth and can be found in yogurt, Swiss cheese, fortified milk and green leafy vegetables, and almonds among others.
Vitamin D helps the body assimilate potassium calcium, iron and other trace minerals for healthy bone development and is found in fatty fish, beef liver, eggs and fish liver oils. Multivitamins also contain vitamin D. Controlled exposure to sunlight can also help the body absorb vitamin D for added benefits.
Other interventions include psychological counseling; antidepressants that help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Exercise can also help strengthen and tone the body and increase bone mass and density.
Anorexia affects mainly the heart and bones and almost every major organ in the body. It can be fatal if left untreated. Early intervention can help treat the root causes and slow the development of bone disorders and permanent bone loss.