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What’s the Difference Between Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa?

What are anorexia and anorexia nervosa?

The difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa mostly comes down to how the term 'anorexia' is used.
The difference between anorexia and anorexia nervosa mostly comes down to how the term 'anorexia' is used.

Anorexia nervosa, often called anorexia, is an eating disorder affecting 0.3% of Americans, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

People with anorexia nervosa try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or both. This can cause serious health problems due to malnutrition.

People with anorexia nervosa are often afraid of gaining weight and have distorted body images, thinking they are fat even if they are underweight. Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it's most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens.

The difference between the two mostly comes down to how the term “anorexia” is used.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low appetite, or desire to eat. Anorexia can be diagnosed as anorexia nervosa or as a secondary disorder to depression, cancers, or side effects from medications.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological disorder in which a person severely limits the amount of food they eat to prevent weight gain. People with anorexia nervosa may also exercise too much to prevent weight gain.

The term literally means “no appetite, caused by nervousness.” Most people with anorexia nervosa feel hunger but take extreme measures to ignore it.

Symptoms of anorexia and anorexia nervosa

Both conditions include a reduced appetite. However, anorexia nervosa often comes with additional symptoms.

Symptoms of anorexia

People with anorexia have a loss in appetite or may not be generally interested in eating.

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:

Causes of anorexia and anorexia nervosa

Anorexia and anorexia nervosa can have completely different causes, even if they share symptoms.

Causes of anorexia

Anorexia is not always caused by the desire to lose weight. Doctors have found that if you have anorexia, your lack of interest in food may have been caused by:

  • Depression
  • Cancer treatment or other medications
  • Other alterations in central neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages throughout the nervous system and body

Causes of anorexia nervosa

The cause of anorexia nervosa is not well understood. Researchers think that eating disorders may come from a combination of a person’s biology and life experiences. Potential factors may include:

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors such as relationship problems, stressful life events, and puberty
  • Cultural pressures to be thin from pop culture and media
  • Psychological factors such as lack of self-esteem, anxiety, poor reaction to stress
  • Occupations that demand a thin physique, such as ballet or the fashion industry

Diagnosis of anorexia and anorexia nervosa

Anorexia diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about the symptoms you have and conduct more tests to rule out or confirm other conditions that may be causing you to lose appetite. This may include your lifestyle habits and looking for markers of stress or depression.

Anorexia nervosa diagnosis

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will use specific medical and psychological criteria:

Treatments of anorexia and anorexia nervosa

Anorexia treatment

Doctors can treat anorexia by treating the reason for your loss of hunger.

Anorexia nervosa treatment

Anorexia nervosa is usually treated with a combination of psychotherapy, support, education, medication, and medical and nutritional counseling.

Supportive psychotherapy and clinical management can help the person recognize their distorted beliefs about their body image. Cognitive behavior therapy can also help a person recognize unhealthy thoughts about body image, food, and dieting.

Medications like antidepressants and antipsychotics have also been prescribed for people with anorexia nervosa to reduce psychological distress.

A trained nutritionist can also plan a healthy eating program that promotes slow weight gain.

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