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Anorexia nervosa symptoms

3 min read

People with anorexia nervosa are in a state of starvation, which impairs the brain's ability to think rationally.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which causes severe weight loss.

Food supplies the energy required for our bodies to function, so the symptoms of anorexia nervosa can take a serious toll.

The most obvious sign that a person has anorexia nervosa is that they are severely underweight, they have lost weight very quickly or their weight fluctuates a lot.

A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered to be underweight. But being skinny is not the only sign of anorexia.

There are psychological and behavioural signs that a person may have anorexia nervosa. In addition, there are a range of physical side effects caused by the disorder.

Psychological signs may include

  • a fear of putting on weight.
  • a distorted body image (the person 'sees' themselves as fat, when they are underweight).
  • a preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
  • not admitting to being hungry.
  • not wanting to eat.
  • low self-esteem and perfectionism.
  • depression and anxiety.

Behavioural signs may include

  • dieting
  • excessive exercise
  • checking weight or body obsessively
  • avoiding social events with family and friends
  • secrecy around eating
  • obsessively avoiding certain foods
  • obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating
  • deliberate misuse of appetite suppressants, laxatives, enemas or diuretics
  • self harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts.

Physical signs may include

  • rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
  • brittle hair and nails
  • dry, yellow skin
  • growth of soft, fine hair over the body and face ('lanugo' or 'peach fuzz')
  • changes to the face, such as sunken eyes and pale skin
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • becoming easily cold
  • impaired thinking, including lack of concentration and poor memory
  • fainting or dizziness
  • lethargy
  • disrupted menstrual cycle or complete loss of menstruation
  • decreased libido in men
  • osteoporosis and bone problems that can increase the risk of broken bones.

See a doctor if you or someone you know is suspected of having anorexia. A diagnosis of anorexia nervosa can be made by a health professional and is the first step in the journey to recovery.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know might have anorexia nervosa, contact the following organisations for support, information and counselling:

Last reviewed: July 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

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