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Experts provide information about important alarm signals
After the death of 29-year-old Henriette Hömke, the topic of “anorexia” has become more and more popular these days. The former partner of Schalke footballer Ralf Fährmann died in April of the consequences of the eating disorder during a vacation. Anorexia is one of the most dangerous mental illnesses - but is often underestimated. Experts provide information about the alarm signals and give tips on where victims and relatives can find help.
More than 8,000 people in hospital treatment
The former "Miss Saxony" Henriette Hömke died at the age of 29 as a result of her longstanding anorexia. Anorexia (anorexia or anorexia nervosa) is the most common eating disorder in Germany. According to the Federal Statistical Office, a total of 8,079 patients were in inpatient treatment in 2015 due to anorexia.
Great panic before gaining weight
A key characteristic is that those affected are very afraid of gaining weight and thus strictly control their food or non-food and weight. A so-called body structure disorder is typical: Those who suffer from anorexia no longer realistically perceive their own bodies. Even those who have already lost a lot of weight overestimate the body size and feel too fat.
If the disease has existed for a long time, the body is remarkably thin. Everything is done for massive weight loss: less eaten, excessive exercise or laxatives, often all together. Everything is all about food, weight and figure.
Calorie tables are studied and certain rules and rituals for eating are introduced. At the beginning, those affected often only do without high-calorie foods, later on whole meals. Some even stop drinking, according to the information provided by the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA).
Genetic predisposition to eating disorders
There are some personality traits as well as biographical aspects that can help assess the risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. For example, an international research group recently showed that anorexia can be congenital.
In addition, many affected people have very high demands on their own performance. They are often among the best in the class or are extremely ambitious in their studies or profession. They constantly compare themselves to others and doubt themselves. But even if it becomes more difficult as the illness progresses, they can achieve good results for a long time.
BMI shows limits for underweight
In the case of anorexia nervosa, the body weight of the person concerned is a maximum of 85 percent of what experts consider to be the “normal weight” for the appropriate age and size. This is defined by the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is obtained when the body weight (in kilograms) is divided by the square of the body size (m²). According to the World Health Organization (WHO) classification for adults, a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight, and a value of less than 16 means severe underweight.
Doctors need to take a closer look at children
The BMI alone does not say much for children and adolescents. Because with them the body structure and composition change during growth. Sometimes they grow higher, then more broadly, and the muscle and fat shares are distributed differently in the course of development in boys and girls. Since a low body weight alone does not mean much here, physicians in young patients must use growth curves to check whether anorexia is present.
Massive physical and mental consequences
The organic and emotional consequences of anorexia can be serious. The younger the person is, the less he / she weighs and the faster the weight drops, the more massive the effects. Cardiovascular disorders such as low blood pressure and a drop in body temperature often occur. Those affected freeze quickly, the skin becomes brittle and appears bluish. Brittle nails, water retention and a fine hair down on the back, arms and face (lanugo hair) are also typical.
Due to hormonal changes, the menstrual period often fails in girls. Potency disorders can occur in boys and men. Growth disorders due to the loss of muscle mass in children and adolescents, osteoporosis, stomach and intestinal complaints, brittle teeth, constipation and flatulence are also possible.
Affected people get into a vicious cycle
Anorexia sufferers believe that weight loss enhances them, makes them "more perfect" and gives them more love, attention and recognition. This thinking becomes independent in the course of the disease, the addiction to being thin becomes increasingly stronger and those affected get into a vicious circle: If the desired positive reaction to losing weight fails to appear, an attempt is made to maintain it through further hunger. Every gram that comes back leads to fear and panic attacks.
Those affected need psychotherapeutic help
This vicious circle can no longer be broken on its own, the people affected need psychotherapeutic help as soon as possible. No time should be lost here, because anorexia is one of the most dangerous mental illnesses. In up to 20 percent of those affected, addiction to being thin ends in death. The fight against the disease often lasts for many years, the earlier the treatment begins, the better the chances of a favorable prognosis.
Build trust and not criticize
If anorexia is suspected, the experts at BZgA advise parents and friends to proceed carefully and with care. So you should avoid criticism of the eating behavior and the figure and make no self-diagnosis, because heavy weight loss can also have organic causes such as have an overactive thyroid, explains the BZgA. Accordingly, parents with their child should seek medical practice as early as possible. It is important not to exert pressure, but to build trust, to watch the child and to keep talking.
Relatives or friends should try to motivate those affected to seek professional help themselves, the BZgA advises. For example, parents could leave the choice of doctor to their children; from the age of majority, they should decide for themselves whether they want to go to the clinic alone or accompanied. (No)