Anorexia in children - What is childhood anorexia.  Bright Tots - Information on child development - Autism information.
Anorexia in Children
Anorexia in Children
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the child engages in self–imposed starvation. Anorexia is an illness in which the
person has a relentless quest for thinness and refuses to maintain a normal or healthy weight. Children with anorexia usually have
a low body weight or at a minimum average weight for age and height. Often children with anorexia see themselves as
overweight, even when they look weak or are clearly malnourished. A person with anorexia typically weighs themselves
constantly, and portions food carefully eating only very small quantities of certain foods.

Children with anorexia have an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image. Inadequate eating or excessive exercising
results in severe weight loss. Anorexia nervosa is a serious, life-threatening disorder, which usually originates from emotional
origins. Although children with anorexia nervosa are obsessed with food, they persistently deny their hunger. Children suffering
from anorexia nervosa often limit or restrict other parts of their lives in addition to food, including relationships, social activities,
or enjoyment.

The condition occurs most frequently in females; however, it can occur in males.
Some people with anorexia lose weight by dieting and exercising excessively; others lose weight by self-induced vomiting, or
misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas. According to some studies, people with anorexia are up to ten times more likely to die as
a result of their illness compared to those without the disorder. The most common complications that lead to death are cardiac
arrest, and electrolyte and fluid imbalances. Suicide also can also be an ending result.

Some children suffering from anorexia recover with treatment after only one episode. Others get well but have relapses.
However, some people have a more chronic form of anorexia, in which their health deteriorates over many years as they battle
the illness. Many people with anorexia also have coexisting psychiatric and physical illnesses, including depression, anxiety,
obsessive behavior, substance abuse, cardiovascular and neurological complications, and impaired physical development.

Causes of Anorexia

Knowledge about the causes of anorexia nervosa is inconclusive, and the causes may be diverse. In an attempt to understand and
uncover the origins of eating disorders, scientists have studied the personalities, genetics, environments, and biochemistry of
people with these illnesses. Certain personality traits common in persons with anorexia nervosa are low self-esteem, social
isolation (which usually occurs after the behavior associated with anorexia nervosa begins), and perfectionism. These children
tend to be good students and excellent athletes.

Anorexia usually begins as innocent dieting behavior, but gradually progresses to extreme and unhealthy weight loss. Social
attitudes toward body appearance, family influences, and developmental conditions are believed possible contributors to the cause
of anorexia. Children who develop anorexia are more likely to come from families with a history of weight problems, physical
illness, and other mental health problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Further, often children with anorexia come
from families that may be considered as being too strict, overly-critical, prying, and overprotective. Children with anorexia may
be immature in their emotional development, and are likely to isolate themselves from others.

Eating disorders also have a tendency to run in families, with female relatives most often affected. A girl with a has a ten to
twenty times higher chance of developing anorexia nervosa, for example, if she has a sibling with the disorder. This finding
suggests that genetic causes may predispose some children to eating disorders. Behavioral and environmental influences may also
play a role. Stressful events are likely to increase the risk of eating disorders as well. Children with anorexia should be diagnosed
and treated as soon as possible because eating disorders are most successfully treated when diagnosed and managed early.

Symptoms of Anorexia

•   Dry skin that when pinched and released, stays pinched
•   Dehydration
•   Abdominal pain
•   Constipation
•   Lethargy (sluggishness, drowsy dullness)
•   Fatigue
•   Intolerance to cold temperatures (hypothermia)
•   Emaciation (abnormal thinness caused by lack of nutrition)
•   Growth of lanugo (fine, soft woolly body hair)
•   yellowing of the skin
•   thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
•   Brittle hair and nails
•   Muscle weakness and loss
•   Low blood pressure, slowed breathing and pulse

Treating Anorexia in Children

Goals to during treatment

•        Rebuild the child to a healthy weight.
•        Treating the psychological concerns associated to the eating disorder.
•        Decreasing or eliminating behaviors or thoughts that trigger the impulse, and preventing relapse.

Some research suggests that the use of medications, such as antidepressants, or mood stabilizers, may be moderately effective in
treating individuals with anorexia by helping to settle mood and anxiety symptoms that often co-exist with anorexia. Recent
studies, however, have suggested that antidepressants may not be effective in preventing some children with anorexia from
relapsing. In addition, no medication has shown to be effective during the critical first phase of restoring the individual to healthy
weight. Overall, it is uncertain if and how medications can help children overcome anorexia, but research continues.

Different forms of psychotherapy, including individual, group and family-based, can help address the psychological motives for
the disorder. Some studies suggest that family-based therapies in which parents assume responsibility for feeding their afflicted
child are the most effective in helping children with anorexia gain weight and improve eating habits and moods. Studies have
noted that a combined approach of medical intervention and supportive psychotherapy aimed specifically for anorexia patients is
more effective than just psychotherapy alone. But the effectiveness of a treatment depends on the individual and his or her

To help children with anorexia nervosa overcome their disorder, a variety of methods may be effective. Some form of
psychotherapy is necessary to treat underlying emotional issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy is sometimes used to change
unusual thoughts and behaviors. Family therapy is particularly beneficial for children. A physician is needed to prescribe
medications that may be useful in treating the disorder. A nutritionist may be necessary to advise parents and child about proper
diet and eating routines. Where support groups are available, they can be helpful to both children and families. Family support is
important during the treatment of anorexia because their support helps the child overcome their harmful eating habits. This is
done through education in family therapy parents learn to take control of their child’s eating. The child suffering from anorexia
will also learn to function more independently.

Individual therapy is a treatment that focuses on increasing the self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-worth of the child, addressing
the main issues of the eating disorder. The child will first learn to identify and understand their emotions, and eventually learn to
tolerate negative and positive emotions instead of numbing themselves with starvation. The child learns to accept responsibility
for food related problems as opposed to giving up authority to the parent. The goal of this treatment is to help the child gain
independence from his or her family as a developing adolescent.
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