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Anorexia is an eating disorder in which a person can literally starve himself or herself to death. While women tend to have it more than men, anyone can develop the disease. A common symptom of anorexia is excessive weight loss, and people with this condition believe they are fat even when they are dangerously thin. Treatment often includes therapy and nutritional counseling. More severe cases may require hospitalization.

What Is Anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder in which people can literally starve themselves to death. People with anorexia eat very little even though they are already thin. They have an intense and overpowering fear of body fat and weight gain, with repeated dieting attempts and excessive weight loss.
Those with anorexia are often characterized as perfectionists and overachievers who appear to be in control. In reality, they suffer from low self-esteem and overly criticize themselves. They are also very concerned about pleasing others.
Anorexia affects from 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the female adolescent population, with an average age of onset between 14 and 18 years. An estimated 0.5 percent to 3.7 percent of females suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime.

Symptoms of Anorexia

Anorexia is identified, in part, by refusal to eat, an intense desire to be thin, repeated dieting attempts, and excessive weight loss.
To maintain an abnormally low weight, people with anorexia may diet, fast, or over-exercise. They often engage in behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People with anorexia believe that they are overweight even when they are extremely thin.
Often, the illness will develop after a stressful life event, such as the beginning of puberty or moving out of the parents' home.
(Click Anorexia Symptoms for more information.)
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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