Early anorexia symptoms include an obsession with one's weight and a compulsion to exercise. As the condition becomes more severe, symptoms include a belief that the person is fat, even when dangerously thin, and avoiding food. Long-term symptoms of this eating disorder include anemia, reduced muscle mass, and swollen joints.
Symptoms specifically associated with anorexia include:
- Resistance to maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
- Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight
- Disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced
- Undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation
- Denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight
- Infrequent or absent menstrual periods in females who have reached puberty.
People with anorexia see themselves as overweight even though they are dangerously thin. The process of eating becomes an obsession for people with anorexia. Unusual eating habits develop, such as:
- Avoiding food and meals
- Picking out a few foods and eating these in small quantities
- Carefully weighing and portioning out food.
People with anorexia may repeatedly check their body weight. Many engage in other techniques to control their weight, such as intense and compulsive exercise, or purging by means of vomiting and abuse of laxatives, enemas, and diuretics.
Girls with anorexia often experience a delayed onset of their first menstrual period.
Symptoms of anorexia in someone who has had the condition for a long time can include:
- Slow heart rate and low blood pressure
- Heart failure, especially in those who use drugs to stimulate vomiting, bowel movements, or urination
- Brain damage
- Brittle hair and nails
- Dry skin (which may become yellow and develop a covering of soft hair called lanugo)
- Mild anemia
- Swollen joints
- Reduced muscle mass