The anorexic, usually an adolescent female, has a phobic fear of what she deems as excess body weight. This results in voluntary malnutrition, sometimes self-induced vomiting after eating, and, in some instances, a state of starvation leading to organic damage (resulting from low metabolic rate and poor circulation) and death. It is associated with an endocrine disorder leading to amenorrhoea (cessation of menstruation), and may also be characterized by bradycardia (slow pulse rate), low blood pressure,lanugo (excessively fine pubic and body hair), brittle nails, osteoporosis, periods of hyper-activity, and bulimia (food gorging).
The term anorexia nervosa has been used since 1873 to describe the syndrome of self-starvation, emaciation and loss of menstruation. From 1859 to 1873, it was called sitomania. In the late 1800's it was viewed as a form of hysteria. Up until 1978, efforts to understand the disorder tended to concentrate upon physiological causes for fasting behaviour, such as hormone deficiencies.
Anorexia affects 8.1 in every 100,000 women. One in every 100 secondary schoolgirls in the UK has full blown anorexia, and 2-3% are partially affected, with high rates among dancers and models, and in media-related jobs. The rate in Argentina for anorexia or bulimia is 10% among teenage girls, and is thought to be the highest in the world. In the USA it is 3%. The market for weight loss products in Argentina is $20 million a year. The number of anorexia patients rose 5% per year between 1965 to 1991. The increase may be due partly to better diagnosis and greater public awareness, as well as to an increase in the number of anorexics.
The condition typically occurs in younger, well-educated women of the higher social classes. In addition, 10% of anorexics are men, but this high proportion may reflect the fact that more men seek treatment. The death rate of anorexics is six times higher than normal. About 5 to 10% of anorexics die, usually through heart failure from starvation, or from suicide. Relapse into anorexic behaviour commonly occurs.
According to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, 27 percent of the child anorexics they see are boys.