Essay, Research Paper: Anorexia Nervosa Study


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Eating disorders are devastating behavioral maladies brought on by a complex
interplay of factors, which may include emotional and personality disorder,
family pressure, a possible genetic or biological susceptibility and a culture
in which there is an over abundance of food and an obsession with thinness.
Eating disorders are generally characterized as bulimia nervosa, anorexia
nervosa and eating disorders not other wise specified. According to the World of
Psychology anorexia is defined as " an eating disorder characterized by an
overwhelming, irrational fear of being fat, compulsive dieting to the point of
self starvation and excessive weight loss."(World of Psychology Page 317).
There are some causes, symptoms, complications and treatment of anorexia
nervosa. There is no single cause for the eating disorder anorexia but a number
of factors including emotional disorders and cultural influences. Researchers
have shown that emotional disorders such as depression collaborate in causing
anorexia nervosa. This is because most anorexic patients have been found to have
abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters particularly serotonin, that are
associated with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. According to a
research conducted by Dr. John .E. Godine of Harvard Medical School "
studies are finding that low blood levels of amino acid tryptophan, a component
in food that is essential to the production of serotonin, can produce depression
and may also contribute to anorexia nervosa" (Psychology Today Page 17, May
97). Researches have also shown that changes in seasons affects both depression
and eating disorders and also that onset of anorexia appears to peak in May,
which is also a peak month for suicide. Anxiety disorders are also very common
with anorexia. Phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) usually precede
the onset of the eating disorder, while panic disorder tends to follow. Studies
have shown that people with anorexia are especially prone to obsessive
compulsive disorder. Cultural influences can also cause anorexia as can be seen
in most western cultures. The social pressures of western cultures certainly
play a major role in triggering eating disorders such as anorexia. On the other
hand, advertisers heavily market weight reductions programs and present anorexic
young models as the paradigm of sexual desirability and on the other hand again,
the media floods the public with ads for junk food. According to the World of
Psychology "over the past quarter century, the 'ideal' female figure as
portrayed in the media and by fashion and entertainment industries, has become
even thinner, often to the point of emancipation"(World of Psychology Page
317). Due to cultural influences in a country where obesity is epidemic, young
women who achieve thinness believe they have accomplished a major cultural and
personal victory; they have overcome the temptations of junk food and at the
same time, created an image idealized by the media. This false sense of
accomplishment is often reinforced by the envy of their heavier friends who may
perceive anorexic patients as being stronger and more sexually attractive than
they are. The media definitely plays a major role in the cause of anorexia.
According to the World of Psychology "It is difficult to pinpoint the cause
of this disorder. More anorexic individuals are well-behaved and academically
successful"(The World of Psychology Page 371). Some investigators even
believe that " young women who refuse to eat are attempting to control a
portion of their lives, which they feel unable to control in most
situations"(Psychology Today, May 98). The symptoms of anorexia vary since
most women with the disorder keep it a secret but the major symptom is the
change in size. According to an article from WebMd " the primary symptom of
anorexia is major weight loss from excessive and continuos dieting which may
either be restrictive dieting or binge-eating and purging"(
The feet and hands of the anorexic patient may be cold or swollen sometimes. The
stomach is often distressed after eating and is often bloated. Thinking may be
confused or slowed, and an anorexic patient may have poor memory and judgement.
Again all of these symptoms vary from individuals as could be seen in young
women who have diabetes and anorexia. Such people may have a normal weight or
even be overweight but still anorexic. A study conducted by Harvard medical
school psychiatrist Dr. Theodore .A. Stern concluded, "the most bewildering
symptom of anorexia is the distorted body image"(Psychology Today May 96).
In another study people with anorexia tended to have an accurate perception of
their upper body, but over estimated the size of their abdominal and pelvic
area. There are a lot of complications that could arise from anorexia. Studies
of anorexic patients reported death ranging from 4% to 20% (The World of
Psychology Page 317). According to the FDA heart disease is the most common
medical cause of death for people with anorexia. This is because the heart can
develop dangerous rhythms, including slow rhythms known as bradycardia.
Electrolyte imbalances can occur as a result of anorexia. Minerals such as
potassium, Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphate are normally dissolved in the body
fluid. Calcium and Potassium are particularly critical in maintaining the
electric currents that cause the heart to beat regularly. The dehydration and
starvation of anorexia can reduce fluid levels and mineral contents, a condition
known as electrolyte imbalance, which can be of very serious and even life
threatening, unless the fluids and minerals are replaced. Reproductive and
hormonal abnormalities can occur due to anorexia. Anorexia causes low levels of
reproductive hormones, changes in thyroid hormones, and increases the level of
stress hormones, which causes amenorrhea. According to Psychology Today
"long term irregular or absent menstruation is common which eventually may
cause sterility and bone loss. The major scare of anorexia is that it can cause
death. According to the e world of psychology " Unfortunately up to 20% of
those suffering from anorexia nervosa eventually die of starvation or
complications from organ damage"(The World of Psychology Page 371). The
World of Psychology summarizes the complications that could arise from anorexia
and concludes that " anorexics may also develop low blood pressure,
impaired heart function, dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or
sterility"(The World of Psychology Page 371). This is in clear similarity
to the other researches conducted by psychologists and shows the complications
that could arise from anorexia. The major difficulty in treating an eating
disorder like anorexia is often the resistance of the anorexic patient, who
believes that the emancipation is normal and even attractive. According to the
World of Psychology "Anorexia is very difficult to treat. Most anorexic
patients are steadfast in their refusal to eat, while insisting that nothing is
wrong with them"(The World of Psychology Page 371). Most moderately to
severely ill anorexic patients should be admitted to the hospital for immediate
treatment. In addition to immediate treatment of any serious medical problem,
the goal of the anorexic patient is to increase weight. To do this therapy could
be used until the anorexic patient succeeds in overcoming this difficult
disorder. Anorexic patients who are severely malnourished should begin with a
calorie count as low as 1500 calories a day, in order to reduce the chances for
stomach pain and bloating, fluid retention and heart failure. The World of
Psychology summarizes the treatment of anorexia. According to Samuel Wood and
Ellen Green " the main thrust of treatment, therefore is to get the
anorexic individual to gain weight. The patient may be admitted to a hospital, a
few controlled diets, and given rewards for small weight gains and increase in
food intake. The treatment usually includes some type of psychotherapy and/or a
self-help group"(The World of Psychology Page 371). Since anorexia nervosa
has no real treatment, the only real treatment for now could be eating healthy,
exercising moderately and also doing constant medical checkups.
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