Anorexia is characterized by a heightened fear of weight gain. This fear can lead to extreme dietary restrictions, resulting in dramatic weight loss and many related health problems. The onset of anorexia can be impacted by many factors, including genetics, life experiences or personality. Although anorexia can affect all members of the population, the disorder impacts women disproportionately. Anorexia can be highly disruptive to emotional and physical well-being and can affect many aspects of daily life, from eating meals to work productivity. To compound this, anorexia has a great deal of comorbidity with physical and psychiatric conditions.
Prevalence of Anorexia
Anorexia has been referred to as a Western condition since rates are much higher in Western countries than in middle or low-income countries. However, anorexia is becoming increasingly common worldwide as the internalization of the thin ideal becomes more prevalent internationally.
The lifetime prevalence of anorexia is estimated to be 1% in women and less than 0.5% in men in high-income countries. In the U.S., the lifetime prevalence of anorexia is 0.80% in both men and women. The ratio of men to women with anorexia is 1:8, though this may differ in childhood. Adolescent and young women are particularly high risk, with rates that may be as high as 22%.
Symptoms of anorexia typically emerge for the first time in early to mid-adolescence. Aside from women, other populations commonly affected by anorexia include:
Although anorexia in men is less common, rates are also higher among adolescent males than in other life stages. Importantly, even subsyndromal symptoms of anorexia or disordered eating can have significant effects on physical and mental health.
Age of Onset
Symptoms of anorexia may appear as early as childhood and could present as picky eating or disinterest in eating. Although anorexia can occur at any age, the average time of onset for anorexia is early to mid-adolescence, and anorexia in teens is thought to have some basis in the hormonal changes that occur during this time. It is also understood that pressures related to social norms, increased dieting behaviors and body dissatisfaction become more common at this time. Anorexia can also develop during adulthood or old age, though it is less common.
Anorexia and Co-Occurring Disorders
Anorexia is often described as a disorder of control and perfectionism. These qualities can increase a person’s risk of other psychological conditions; therefore, anorexia is often experienced in combination with other mental health conditions. In fact, nearly three-quarters of patients with anorexia nervosa report having had a lifetime mood disorder, mainly depression, and approximately 25–75% have a lifetime history of anxiety. People with anorexia may also experience social phobia or may avoid social situations for fear of being viewed negatively.
Anorexia also shares features with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and nearly 80% of people with anorexia have obsessions or compulsions at some point in their life. To cope with some of the experiences of anorexia and comorbid conditions, people may use alcohol or substances. The prevalence of alcohol use and dependency in anorexia may be up to 25%, and substance use may occur to suppress appetite or promote purging behaviors.
As a result of the nutrient and energy deprivation common in anorexia, sufferers can experience a series of serious physical problems. For example, people with anorexia may experience physical consequences like organ function complications, dizziness, fatigue, endocrine problems, type 1 diabetes or osteoporosis. The type and duration of physical comorbidity can depend on the severity of anorexia.
Anorexia Suicide Risk
The experience of anorexia is highly distressing, and symptoms can be persistent over the course of an individual’s life. As a result of this distress, some people with anorexia may experience suicidal thoughts, and the risk of suicide is higher than average among this group.
The prognosis for anorexia varies based on gender, age of onset and severity of symptoms. As features of anorexia are often part of a person’s personality, anorexia can have a long recovery time and a heightened risk of relapse. The long-term prognosis for anorexia can look different for adolescents and adults. In general, adolescents have a higher recovery and lower mortality rate than adults. Recovery in adult-onset anorexia may take 5–6 years and appropriate treatment and support are crucial to this process.
Statistics on Anorexia Treatment and Recovery
There are many treatment options available for those with anorexia. For treatment to be effective, it’s important to establish the nature and severity of anorexia, as well as any conditions that co-occur with the disorder. The treatment success rate for anorexia can vary and is greatly improved by appropriate support and tailored treatment strategies. Some of the most common anorexia treatments include:
- Family-based treatment
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Nutrition counseling
- Osteoporosis treatment
There are a variety of re-nourishment and therapy treatments that have demonstrated success for anorexia. If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of anorexia-related to an alcohol or substance use problem, contact The Recovery Village today to discuss our comprehensive treatment options.
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