Anorexia Nervosa

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Eating Disorders Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideEating Disorders Pictures Slideshow: Understanding Binge Eating, Anorexia and Bulimia

Eating Disorders Pictures Slideshow: Understanding Binge Eating, Anorexia and Bulimia

What causes anorexia nervosa?

At this time, no definite cause of anorexia nervosa has been determined. However, research within the medical and psychological fields continues to explore possible causes.

Studies suggest that a genetic (inherited) component may play a more significant role in determining a person's susceptibility to anorexia than was previously thought. Researchers are attempting to identify the particular gene or genes that might affect a person's tendency to develop this disorder, and preliminary studies suggest that a gene located at chromosome 1p seems to be involved in determining a person's susceptibility to anorexia nervosa.

Other evidence had pinpointed a dysfunction in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus (which regulates certain metabolic processes), as contributing to the development of anorexia. Other studies have suggested that imbalances in neurotransmitter (brain chemicals involved in signaling and regulatory processes) levels in the brain may occur in people suffering from anorexia.

Feeding problems as an infant, a general history of under-eating, and maternal depressive symptoms tend to be risk factors for developing anorexia. Other personal characteristics that can predispose an individual to the development of anorexia include a high level of negative feelings and perfectionism. For many individuals with anorexia, the destructive cycle begins with the pressure to be thin and attractive. A poor self-image compounds the problem. People who suffer from any eating disorder are more likely than others to have been the victim of childhood abuse.

While some professionals remain of the opinion that family discord and high demands from parents can put a person at risk for developing this disorder, the increasing evidence against the idea that families cause anorexia has mounted to such an extent that professional mental-health organizations no longer ascribe to that theory. Possible factors that protect against the development of anorexia include high maternal body mass index (BMI) as well as high self-esteem.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2016

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