What causes anorexia nervosa?

Updated: Jun 10, 2019
  • Author: Bettina E Bernstein, DO; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Anorexia nervosa results from a complex interplay between biologic, psychological, and social factors; it tends to affect women more than men, and adolescents more than older women.

Prepubescent patients who subsequently develop anorexia nervosa have a high incidence of premorbid anxiety disorders. The onset of anorexia nervosa during puberty has led to the theory that, by exerting control over food intake and body weight, adolescents are attempting to compensate for a lack of autonomy and selfhood.

Modern preoccupation with slenderness and beauty in the Western world may contribute to the mindset of thinness as a valued quality in adolescents; however, this link has not been proven. A subset of adolescents who are temperamentally incapable of dealing with age-appropriate challenges without extreme reward-seeking behavior (thinness) may be susceptible to anorexia nervosa. [23]

Recognizing the predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors in the disease is important to better facilitate early intervention, especially since nutritional rehabilitation performed simultaneously with family-based treatment (FBT) and the Maudsley method is crucial to recovery. [9, 24, 5]

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