There are certain signs and symptoms that make you suspect that a person may be suffering from anorexia nervosa, however, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up should always be made by a specialist health professional. These signs are:
Signs of anorexia
- Excessive weight loss in a short period of time.
- Constant feeling of unfounded obesity and a strong desire to keep losing weight, with active control (looking repeatedly in the mirror, weighing oneself several times a day, counting calories…).
- Delayed growth and development (in children and adolescents).
- Alterations in or absence of menstruation.
- Excessive and constant physical exercise.
- Use of loose clothing, mainly trousers.
- Avoid company meals.
- Run away from the table after eating.
- Disguise the food so as not to eat it (cut it into small pieces and spread it on the plate, throw it on the floor, hide it…).
- Progressive isolation and loss of social bonds.
- Mood alterations with tendency to depression and anxiety.
- Obsession with the caloric content of everything consumed, taking only low-calorie foods.
- Uncontrolled use of diuretics and laxatives.
- Low self-esteem.
Symptoms of anorexia
In the clinical setting the main symptoms of anorexia nervosa are:
Dryness of the skin, with the possibility of cracks.
Appearance of fine hair (lanugo) on cheeks, back, thighs and forearms.
Yellowish pigmentation on the skin, mainly on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. This is due to an increase of carotenoids in the blood (precursors of vitamin A) due to a disorder in its metabolism.
Brittle nails and hair loss.
Hypertrophy of the salivary glands, such as the parotid glands and submandibular glands.
Dental alterations, with a tendency to corrosion of the dental enamel and the presence of caries. This is especially evident in patients who purge through self-induced vomiting.
Gastrointestinal disorders: flatulence, swelling, abdominal pain and constipation (except if laxatives are used, which can cause diarrhoea that alters the electrolyte balance).
Cardiovascular alterations: low blood pressure (hypotension), drop in heart rate, alterations in heart rhythm, etc.
Kidney alterations: indicative of a malfunction. Low potassium levels, high levels of nitrogen-derived compounds, and elevated serum creatinine levels may be found.
Hemogram: low levels of red blood cells (anemia) and white blood cells.
Biochemical levels: low glucose levels, increased triglycerides, transaminases and the general proteinogram, as well as cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia). If the patient, in addition, usually uses purging agents, enemas, or self-induced vomiting, there are other specific parameters altered.