One of the most lethal mental health disorders that exists

It's probably not what you think

Anorexia nervosa is one of the most deadly mental health disorders.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which is one of the most life threatening mental health disorders that exists. Its Greek and Latin roots mean "lack of appetite of nervous origin." Anorexia involves extreme behaviors and emotions around food. This article will share some facts and statistics about anorexia nervosa, largely according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


Anorexia typically appears during early to middle adolescence. 90-95% of people with anorexia are women, and it affects 0.5-1% of American women. Anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any mental health diagnosis, with between 5-20% of its sufferers dying from the condition. It also is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses among young women.


Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include inadequate consumption of food, resulting in a weight that is clearly too low. One's self-esteem is extremely reliant on her weight and body image, and she is deeply afraid of weight gain and can be obsessed with activities to prevent it. People who have anorexia are typically unable to appreciate the severity of the problem.


Anorexia is one of the more serious mental health disorders as it is can be lethal. Someone who suffers with anorexia is literally starving herself.

As a result, all kinds of negative health consequences can take place. Some health consequences include muscle loss and weakness, dehydration that can lead to kidney failure, hair loss and dry skin. A lack of adequate nutrition can also cause the heart muscle to change, and as someone's heart rate and blood pressure decrease, her risk for heart failure rises.

Understandably, anorexia also leads to fainting, fatigue and a general weakness. It can also result in lack of menstruation, also known as amenorrhea.   


Anorexia nervosa is divided into two categories: Binge-Eating/Purging Type and Restricting Type.

Binge-Eating/Purging Type involves a person with anorexia feeling a loss of control around food and eating more than she intended, and then purging through any number of methods, some of which may include self-induced vomiting, compulsive exercise or taking laxatives.

Restricting Type involves no binge-eating or purging within the last three months. Someone with restricting type exercises a great deal of control over their diet and can limit themselves to only several hundred calories a day or even just water.

Warning signs

The most obvious warning sign of anorexia is a sudden drop in weight. Obsessiveness with food, calories, weight and restrictive eating are also red flags that one may be struggling with anorexia. She may also indicate that she feels "fat" despite losing weight or be overly fearful about becoming "fat." She might consistently exercise despite being tired or worn out, and may have a tendency to withdraw from friends and family.

 Other warning signs include a denial of hunger and rituals around eating. 

Other diagnoses among those with anorexia nervosa 

Anorexia is a complex physical and emotional disorder that often comes in hand with others. Depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, particularly obsessive compulsive disorder, and other kinds of mental health problems are not uncommon to impact those who are already struggling with anorexia.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anorexia or any other eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association's Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

The National Eating Disorders Association

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