What is anorexia nervosa?

Updated: Jun 10, 2019
  • Author: Bettina E Bernstein, DO; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by the inability to maintain a minimally normal weight, a devastating fear of weight gain, relentless dietary habits that prevent weight gain, and a disturbance in the way in which body weight and shape are perceived. This condition has potentially life-threatening physiologic effects and causes enduring psychological disturbance. (See Prognosis and Clinical Presentation.) [9, 10]

With the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), changes have occurred in the definition of anorexia nervosa, namely in Criterion A there is a focus on behaviors including restricting calorie intake, and the word “refusal” is no longer included related to weight maintenance because of the incorrect and possibly stigmatizing implication of intention on the part of the patient and because this aspect may be not something that can accurately be assessed. [11]

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) Criterion D requiring amenorrhea, or the absence of at least three menstrual cycles, has been deleted as that criterion cannot be applied to males or premenarchal females, females taking oral contraceptives, and postmenopausal females. In some cases, individuals exhibit all other symptoms and signs of anorexia nervosa but still report some menstrual activity. [11]

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