Being obsessed with body weight and body size are signs of an eating disorder. Learn about other symptoms and tests that can be performed for diagnosis.

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Because consequences of eating disorders can be severe, early diagnosis is crucial. Between one and two of every 10 cases of anorexia leads to death from starvation, cardiac arrest, medical complications or suicide. Eating disorders in general can disrupt physical and emotional growth in teenagers and can lead to premature osteoporosis, a condition where bones are weakened and more susceptible to fracture; increase infertility; and raise the risk of miscarriages or low-birth-weight babies. Anorexia may be especially deadly for women with insulin dependent diabetes if they omit or under-use insulin to control their weight. Insulin therapy can, sometimes, cause weight gain but changing insulin dosages to lose weight can be very dangerous and life-threatening.

Among the physical effects of anorexia are:

  • anemia, often caused by iron deficiency, which reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen and causes fatigue, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headache, insomnia, pale skin, loss of hunger and irregular heart beat
  • elevated cholesterol
  • low body temperature and cold hands and feet
  • constipation and bloating
  • shrunken organs
  • low blood pressure
  • slowed metabolism and reflexes
  • slowed heart rate, which can be mistaken as a sign of physical fitness
  • irregular heartbeat, which can lead to cardiac arrest

Women with anorexia have an intense dread of becoming fat. Food and body size become obsessions. It is common for women with anorexia, for example, to collect recipes and prepare gourmet meals for family and friends, but not eat any of the food themselves. Instead, they allow their bodies to wither away and "disappear," gauging their hunger as a measure of their self-control. Women with anorexia diet, not to lose a few pounds, but because they want to improve their feelings of self-esteem and love. Depression and insomnia often occur with eating disorders.

If you have anorexia, you may tend to keep your feelings to yourself, seldom disobey authority and are often described as "too good to be true". You also are likely to be a perfectionist, a good student, and excellent athlete. Anorexia is common in dancers and competitive athletes in sports such as gymnastics and figure skating where success depends not only on athletic performance, but on having the "perfect" body, as well.