Symptoms of Anorexia
This article looks at the symptoms of anorexia, an eating disorder characterized by a person's refusal to eat food. As a result of denying oneself calories and nutrition over time many physical signs and symptoms may occur.
Medically speaking, signs are distinct from symptoms. Medical signs are something physical that can be objectively observed by a clinician or measured, such as blood pressure or weight. Symptoms, on the other hand, are the subjective experience of a person and cannot be objectively observed or measured by an outside party. An example of a symptom would be pain.
Signs of Anorexia
The specific signs that must be present to achieve a diagnosis of Anorexia Nerovsa according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) include a body weight of less than 85% of that expected for age, height, and sex, and amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is the absence of a menstrual period for three consecutive cycles in post-pubescent females.
Symptoms of Anorexia
The specific symptoms of anorexia that must be present for a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa are an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight, and a disturbance in the way one's body weight or shape are experienced, as well as undue influence of body weight or shape on self evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight. These are feelings a person experiences and cannot be objectively measured.
As Anorexia Nervosa progresses, other medical signs and symptoms of anorexia may occur that are not tied to the diagnosis itself. For instance, some of the signs that may occur include orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure upon standing or rising). In addition, in advanced cases of Anorexia Nervosa, lanugo (soft, downy hair) may grow over the entire body. Furthermore, any electrolyte or metabolic disturbances that can be measured as laboratory values may also result. Low blood potassium (hypokalemia), low blood sodium (hyponatremia), and deranged values of Gonadotropin-Releasing hormone, Leutenizing Hormone, Follicle-Stimulating Hormone, and Cortisol are some more examples of signs of Anorexia.
Secondary Disease Symptoms of Anorexia
In addition, many signs may develop due to a secondary disease process as a result of Anorexia Nervosa. For example, if a person with Anorexia Nervosa develops osteopenia or osteoporosis (soft or brittle bones, respectively), their lower-than-normal bone density can be observed in x-rays and measured in t-scores. Or, if a person with Anorexia Nervosa develops any heart arrhythmias, these would show up on an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Symptoms that may result from Anorexia Nervosa include things like depression, low self-esteem, and poor body image. The negative feelings a person feels as a result of Anorexia, anxiety, and obsessive or compulsive behaviors would be symptoms of anorexia. Also hunger pangs, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, dizziness, and an intolerance to cold are symptoms of anorexia nervosa. None of these things can be objectively measured and so they are considered to be symptoms, rather than signs, of Anorexia.
Anorexia Nervosa is a complex disease comprised of a constellation of both signs and symptoms. Both objectively measured markers and subjective experiences combine to create the clinical picture of the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa.